The OHL is set to return on October 7th, 2021 — marking the official end of a long and painful layoff enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the 2020-21 OHL campaign was unfortunately cancelled, there is a wealth of storylines to follow as we enter the regular season. Perhaps the most notable storyline of all will be the immense influx of young talent into the league this campaign. Since last season was lost, it means that two rookie classes are set to enter the OHL this season — those born in 2004 and 2005 (with the exception of Shane Wright, of course).
With this being said, there will be an incredible number of youngsters eager to make their mark at the OHL-level this campaign. At the top of the list is none other than Ty Nelson, the first-overall choice in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection who has waited more than a year to take to the ice with the North Bay Battalion. Then there is the 2021 OHL Priority Selection’s first overall choice, Quentin Musty — a power-forward poised to follow in the footsteps of another stellar Quinton who leap-frogged through Sudbury on his way to the Los Angeles Kings in 2020-21.
So, while we all know that Nelson and Musty will make an immediate impact this season, what other prospects chosen within the past two OHL Drafts could make the biggest splash in their rookie campaigns? Here are ten young players who we expect to explode as they step onto the OHL stage this season, listed in alphabetical order:
10 Rookies to Watch This Season
2021-22 Team: Owen Sound Attack
As one of the most talented 2005-born prospects around, it came as a surprise to see Colby Barlow fall to the Owen Sound Attack at eighth-overall in the 2021 OHL Priority Selection. Barlow owns impeccable hockey sense, refined puck skills and the ability to be a force at both ends of the ice on a nightly basis. What’s more is that Barlow has great size and strength for a player of his age — a fact which should allow him to step directly in the Attack’s top-six come opening night.
2021-22 Team: Hamilton Bulldogs
The second defenceman chosen in the 2020 OHL Draft, Jorian Donovan will be counted upon to play major minutes for the Hamilton Bulldogs in his rookie season in the OHL. Fortunately for Donovan, he boasts all of the skills and abilities necessary to allow for a smooth and easy transition. As a tremendous skater with great size, Donovan will be able to showcase his premier shut down abilities in his defensive end this coming campaign and will surely come to playing an impactful offensive role as well. While he likely won’t see considerable time on the Bulldogs’ first power play unit to begin the season, expect Donovan to have a firm grasp on the role come the end of the season.
2021-22 Team: Sudbury Wolves
After dominating the HEO and setting the minor hockey circuit in the U.S. ablaze as a member of Selects Academy, David Goyette will make his long awaited return to Canada this season with the Sudbury Wolves. Although there was a fair deal of uncertainty revolving his selection in the 2020 OHL Draft, Goyette was nabbed by the Wolves and now stands poised to be one of their best players this coming season. Boasting blazing speed, ample agility and the innate hockey sense necessary to keep opposing defenders on their toes, Goyette could very well prove to be one of the best players chosen in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection — if not the best in a few years’ time.
2021-22 Team: Mississauga Steelheads
Despite being neglected by Hockey Canada in recent international events, Zakary Lavoie stands poised to enjoy a terrific rookie campaign with the Mississauga Steelheads this coming season. Lavoie is a strong and stable skater known for his tactile edge work who can make an impact at both ends of the ice. However, where is most deadly comes in the offensive zone, as Lavoie owns a lethal shot and the vision necessary to create high-percentage scoring chances for his team. Don’t be surprised if Lavoie sees regular time within the Steelheads’ top-six this season as well as on their first powerplay unit this season.
2021-22 Team: Kingston Frontenacs
If you’re looking for a strong two-way player who excels in each and every facet of the game, look no further than Paul Ludwinski. The fifth-overall selection in the 2020 OHL Draft, Ludwinski plays a refined and highly detailed 200-foot game — an ability which allows him to thrive in all situations on the ice. Whether he is killing a penalty or contributing to a power play, Ludwinski finds ways in which to be productive while helping to improve the play of his fellow teammates in the process. A natural leader and deadly offensive player, Ludwinski’s game is eerily similar to that of another star centre which the Frontenacs are fortunate to ice.
2021-22 Team: Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds
The 2019-20 Alliance Player of the Year, Bryce McConnell-Barker stands poised to play a major role within the Greyhounds’ top-six this season. With great size and strength, McConnell-Barker is a difficult player to shutdown who is seemingly impossible to knock off of the puck. Moreover, he owns a stellar shot and the ability to score goals in a variety of ways — hence why he was able to score 29 goals in his 33 regular season games played with the London Jr. Knights in his U16 season. As a well-rounded centre who oozes consistency and the makings of a professional player, expect steady production from McConnell-Barker in his rookie OHL campaign.
2021-22 Team: Sarnia Sting
Although the Sarnia Sting will boast a young team this coming season, it will be one that is not only highly skilled but incredibly competitive. Set to lead the way for the new-look Sting is none other than Max Namestnikov — the club’s third overall selection in the 2020 OHL Draft. Well known for his refined skill-set and lethality when the puck is on his stick, Namestnikov is a raw and dangerous offensive player who can fill the score sheet with startling regularity when he is at his best. The main knock on Namestnikov has long been his lack of size and strength, however, the youngster now stands a whopping 25-pounds heavier than he did one year ago — a transition which should allow him to stand as a formidable force in his upcoming rookie season.
2021-22 Team: Guelph Storm
Despite being drafted by the Guelph Storm in the 2019 OHL Draft, Sasha Pastujov headed south of the border and competed with the U.S. Development Program for the past two seasons. In those two campaigns, Pastujov further established himself as a premier offensive player — totalling 65 points in 41 games played this past season alongside an impressive 26 points in 18 USHL contests. With great size, strength, playmaking skills and the ability to score timely goals, Pastujov — a third-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in the 2021 NHL Draft — should enjoy a seamless transition to the OHL-level with Guelph.
2021-22 Team: Kitchener Rangers
During the 2021 OHL Draft, many organizations were unsure of whether or not Carson Rehkopf would opt for the major-junior route if selected. As a result, he fell outside of the top-ten despite being one of the most talented forwards eligible for selection. However, the Kitchener Rangers decided to take a chance on Rehkopf, and it was a gamble which paid immediate dividends. Now committed to the Rangers for the 2021-22 season, Rehkopf will join a highly skilled Rangers roster laden with NHL prospects and depth at every position on the ice. If afforded with ample playing time as well as opportunities in different situations, Rehkopf should be able to total a significant offensive output while quickly becoming one of Kitchener’s top players in the process.
2021-22 Team: Oshawa Generals
Did the Oshawa Generals select the best player available in the 2021 OHL Draft with the second overall selection? Well, although time will tell, there is no question that the Generals added an elite two-way centre to their roster. A deadly offensive player, Ritchie can score goals as well as create them and boasts an innate level of hockey sense typically reserved for high-end NHL prospects. What’s more is that Ritchie often plays an important role in his own zone as well, using his size and strength to assist his defenders in stealing the puck from his opposition before transitioning possession up ice to his fellow forwards. In short, expect Ritchie to have an instant and substantial impact with the Generals this season alongside Ty Tullio and Brett Harrison — we could be talking about the 2021-22 Rookie of the Year in a few months’ time.
Five Honourable Mentions
2021-22 Team: Peterborough Petes
Don’t be surprised if Alfano jumps directly into the Petes’ top-six to begin his rookie season. The 6-foot-3 winger and former SCTA Player of the Year is a deadly offensive player who played at a two point-per-game pace in his most recent season with the Southern Tier Admirals.
2021-22 Team: Niagara IceDogs
The second-overall choice in the 2020 OHL Draft will be given every opportunity to succeed with the Niagara IceDogs this season. A blue-collar, hard-working player who plays a full 200-foot game, Fimis will surely enjoy ample power-play time considerable even-strength ice time as he acclimates himself to the OHL-level.
2021-22 Team: London Knights
The London Knights did what the London Knights do in the 2020 OHL Draft, nabbing Isaiah George in the fourth-round at 68th overall. The former Toronto Marlboros star was projected to be chosen in the first-round with ease, but a lack of clarity regarding the direction of his playing future allowed the Knights to secure his rights. Expect the strong and steady George to play a major role with the Knights this season.
2021-22 Team: Owen Sound Attack
The HEO Player of the Year in 2019-20, Cedric Guindon is a formidable offensive force who can be relied upon to play a responsible and disciplined game at both ends of the ice. An equally talented playmaker and goal-scorer, expect Guindon to quickly develop into a jack of all trades for the Attack.
2021-22 Team: Barrie Colts
As one of the 2020 OHL Draft’s most lethal goal scorers, expect Haight to pick up right where he left off as a member of the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs this season. Haight is a natural goal-scorer who can pot the puck in a variety of ways — moreover, he can act as a playmaker when opposing defenders place too much emphasis on his ability to shoot the puck.