Connor Punnett has the ability to be a game changer at both ends of the ice. With intriguing offensive upside, he has displayed the potential to be an elite puck-moving defenceman. Projecting to the OHL level, Punnett has showcased all of the necessary abilities to adapt and thrive at the major junior level.
– Connor Punnett –
North Central Predators (ETA) | Left Defence | 2019 OHL Draft Eligible
Powassan, Ontario | 6-foot-1, 174-pounds | June 16th, 2003
Connor Punnett has quietly put his name on the map as one of the top puck-moving defencemen available for this year’s OHL Draft. His skills at both ends of the ice, as well as upper-level strength and physicality, were two leading reasons for his inclusion on Team Ontario’s roster for the 2019 Canada Winter Games.
A large part of Punnett’s upside comes from his offensive potential. He ranked second among all ETA defencemen in points per game this year, totalling six goals and 26 points over 30 games of action. His play was further rewarded by call-ups to play with the Powassan VooDoos of the NOJHL, where he was able to display his ability to go up against older and stronger opponents.
Sense & Instincts
Punnett is a defenceman who thrives on the transition game, plain and simple. He is tremendously reliable in his own end, controlling gaps with authority and combining smart body and stick positioning to be an intimidating player to face on the rush. With good size, he isn’t afraid to force opponents into the wall and is very effective below the dots.
With that said, Punnett is excellent at retrieving the puck and moving it up ice in an instant, with slick tape-to-tape breakout passes, effective chips off the wall, and eye-catching breakaway dishes. From the offensive blue line, Punnett excels at getting shots through traffic to produce scoring chances. Further, his sense and ability to read the game is off the charts, playing a game mature beyond his years.
Area of Improvement:
In order to be a truly elite offensive defender at the next level, Punnett will need to ads some extra gas to his shot from the point. He’s displayed an ability to sift through traffic and score on the rush, but being able to score from the point at the next level will be crucial in reaching his ceiling of potential.
Especially on the man advantage, Punnett would greatly increase his draft stock with some extra muscle in his slap shot. Although he possesses a smart wrister from the point with which he can get past screens, adding an extra element to his talents from the line would make himself much more potent as a two-way defenceman.
Overall, Connor Punnett has the ability to be a game changer at both ends of the ice. With intriguing offensive upside, he has displayed the potential to be an elite puck-moving defenceman who can join the rush or skate the puck through the neutral zone himself. He has continued to grow in his defensive reliability as well, playing an intelligent and physical game in his own zone.
Projecting to the OHL level, Punnett has showcased all of the necessary abilities to adapt and thrive at the major junior level. As he continues to grow and strengthen, he will only become a more intimidating defender to face at either end of the ice. In all, Punnett projects as a potential second round pick for the 2019 OHL Draft.
The OHL is loaded with elite young talent in 2018-19, and the 2002-born rookie class is proving to be no slouch. Here are five of the hottest OHL rookies this season, as well as three honourable mentions to keep an eye on.
The Ontario Hockey League is loaded with elite young talent this season — a great deal of which coming in the form of the 2002-born rookie class.
Led by 2018 first overall selection Quinton Byfield, the likes of Cole Perfetti, Jean-Luc Foudy, Jacob Perreault, and Marco Rossi have all exploded into starring roles with their respective teams this season. And, in most cases, these players have become offensive catalysts for their new franchises — leading the charge on a nightly basis while standing surprisingly consistent in their abilities to do so.
Outside of these five rookie stars, a secondary class of promising newcomers also exists. Leading this group of rookies are youngsters such as Jamie Drysdale, Will Cuylle, and Vladislav Kolyachonok — three players of varying position who have also been downright dominant in their initial seasons in the OHL.
With this being said, let’s take closer look at five of the OHL’s most prolific rookies thus far in the 2018-19 season. Listed in alphabetical order, you’ll want to know exactly how these former minor midget stars have fared in their first campaigns of major-junior action.
Five Surging OHL Prospects
Team: Sudbury Wolves
Drafted: 1st Overall (2018)
Seeing Quinton Byfield amongst the OHL’s top rookies thus far should come as no surprise, as the first overall choice in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection has picked up where he left off with the York Simcoe Express of the ETA. Founded upon exceptional skating abilities and aided by his immense size, Byfield has quickly become an offensive catalyst for the Sudbury Wolves in his rookie campaign.
Through his first 48 games played with the Wolves in 2018-19, Byfield had recorded 19 goals and 46 points — a total which led the team at the mid-way mark of February. Regarded as one of the top prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft, Byfield’s presence in Sudbury has helped to transition the Wolves from a fringe contender into a legitimate force within the Eastern Conference.
Team: Windsor Spitfires
Drafted: 10th Overall (2018)
Jean-Luc Foudy could very well come to be known as the steal of the 2018 OHL Priority Selection, as the former Toronto Titans star has had little trouble adjusting to the OHL-level. Thus far in 2018-19, Foudy has become a playmaking force for the Windsor Spitfires — regularly feeding the puck to his fellow teammates while doubling as a possession dynamo.
Through his first 50 games played in his rookie campaign, Foudy had recorded a whopping 41 points — 35 of which assists — in helping to drive the Spitfires’ offensive attack. As a tireless skater and puck-hound who buzzes throughout the ice with speed and purpose, Foudy has quickly become a pleasant surprise in Windsor and a prospect who should lead the team in the years ahead.
Team: Saginaw Spirit
Drafted: 5th Overall (2018)
Although he was chosen fifth-overall in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection, it goes without saying that Cole Perfetti was amongst the three best prospects eligible for his respective draft. Fortunately for the Saginaw Spirit, Perfetti was willing and able to compete for their team this year and has been absolutely dominant to begin his rookie OHL campaign.
Through his first 47 contests this season, Perfetti was one of just two rookies to produce offensively at greater than a point per game pace — notching 22 goals and 48 points. A dynamic and versatile threat who can shoot the puck with authority as well as pass it, Perfetti has quickly become a fixture within the Spirit’s attack and has shown no signs of slowing down. Come the 2020 NHL Draft, it would be an incredible shock were Perfetti not chosen within the top-15 overall — he is simply that good.
Team: Sarnia Sting
Drafted: 19th Overall (2018)
The Sarnia Sting knew exactly what they were receiving when they selected Jacob Perreault with their first round choice in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. A former standout with the HPHL’s Chicago Mission, Perreault is a hard-nosed centre who brings both skill and pace to the ice on a nightly basis.
And, thus far in the 2018-19 season, Perreault has done exactly such for the Sting — contributing offensively on a nightly basis while standing as a difficult and highly competitive force for his opponents to compete with. On the scoreboard is where Perreault has shone brightest, as the native of Montreal, Quebec had blasted home an impressive 26 goals and 22 assists through his initial 50 games played with Sarnia.
Team: Ottawa 67’s
Drafted: 18th Overall (2018 Import)
Although one of the OHL’s oldest rookie skaters in 2018-19, Marco Rossi has quickly become the league’s most potent. The 19th overall selection in the 2018 CHL Import Draft, Rossi has quickly earned his place within an abundantly strong Ottawa 67’s team owing to his high-end skill as well as poise with the puck.
Mature beyond his years, Rossi is a stellar playmaker who also boasts the elite skill necessary to also score goals at an outrageous pace. In the opening 39 games of his rookie campaign, Rossi had not only netted 24 goals for the 67’s but he had added a whopping 29 assists for a total of 53 points. Often centring Ottawa’s top line and a fixture on the team’s top power play unit, Rossi’s importance to the 67’s despite his young age is second to none within the OHL.
3 Honourable Mentions
As mentioned above, a dominant secondary class of rookies also exists within the OHL this season — all of whom must be considered elite-level prospects ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft.
With the top-five outlined above, here are three honourable mentions you must keep an eye on as the 2018-19 season winds to a close.
Team: Windsor Spitfires
Drafted: 3rd Overall (2018)
The Spitfires paid a substantial price in order to acquire Will Cuylle from the Peterborough Petes, and thus far Cuylle has been exactly as advertised. Although his point totals are slightly behind the top tier of this year’s rookie class, Cuylle has been a force nonetheless — potting 22 goals and 33 points in his opening 50 contests while playing a physical role in the process.
A tireless skater by nature whose game appears effortless at times, Cuylle is a natural goal-scorer who has the skill-set necessary to drive Windsor’s offensive attack. Of solid size given his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame, Cuylle will undoubtedly be an integral piece of the Spitfires’ future and an increasingly potent player as he continues to find his footing at the OHL-level.
Team: Erie Otters
Drafted: 4th Overall (2018)
Come the 2020 NHL Draft, Jamie Drysdale will undoubtedly stand as one of the top defenceman eligible for selection. Nabbed by the Erie Otters with their fourth-overall choice in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection, Drysdale is a calm and composed defender who has had little issue adapting to the OHL-level in his rookie campaign.
In fact, through his initial 47 games played, Drysdale had recorded four goals and 24 assists for a total of 28 points. Sure, his -16 plus/minus rating was less than stellar, however, it stood as a mark reflective of the Otters’ play as a team this season rather than Drysdale’s inabilities on the blue line. Ultimately, Drysdale is an endlessly talented defender whose on-ice intelligence and poise have and will continue to make him one of the OHL’s most promising young defenders.
Team: Flint Firebirds
Drafted: 102nd Overall (2018 Import)
The sole 2019 NHL Draft eligible rookie on this list, Vladislav Kolyachonok has quickly established himself as a prospect to watch after being placed on waivers by the London Knights earlier this season. A sizeable defender yet fluid skater, Kolyachonok has become a reliable presence for the Flint Firebirds this season and one capable of playing a seamless two-way game.
Although his natural offensive instincts and drive can pull him out of position at times, Kolyachonok’s flair throughout the ice is simply unquestionable. An excellent skater who can pass the puck extremely well and rush the puck throughout the ice, Kolyachonok’s 25 points in his first 41 games played this season stand as an indication of his potential at the professional-level.