OHL priority Selection

Battalion draft could be ‘franchise altering’ for North Bay

Battalion Draft Has Big Implications

Battalion draft first overall this Saturday in the 2020 edition of the OHL Priority Selection.

For the North Bay Battalion, the term “franchise-altering draft” has been thrown around. A lot. The reason why some, including yours truly, choose to call it as such is that the Troops will be selecting first overall in the draft.

Adam Dennis of the North Bay Battalion. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

“We’re happy to have the first overall pick,” Battalion General Manager Adam Dennis said. “North Bay can get excited about it, and I think it will really help improve our squad.”

The last time the Battalion drafted first was in the 1998 draft when the team first came into the league. That selection was Jay Harrison, who would spend four seasons in Battalion green, posting 19 goals, and 78 assists for 97 points in 245 games. The defender was then drafted in the third round, 82nd overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2001 NHL draft. He would lace ‘em up for 372 NHL games spent with Toronto, Carolina, and Winnipeg.

The last time North Bay drafted in the top five was in 2017 when they selected Brandon Coe third overall. The NHL Central Scouting ranked forward figures to go in the NHL draft later this year.

Brandon Coe of the North Bay Battalion. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

However, there is a different hurdle for North Bay to get past this year, and that’s the lack of interaction with top prospects due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes such things as not being able to provide tours of the facilities at Memorial Gardens.

“We are lucky enough to have advances in technology,” Dennis said. “We’re going to be in touch with players and families and showcase our facilities and town through options like webinars. We will be able to give a virtual tour as opposed to an in-person tour.”

Fantilli Picked First?

The top name on fans’ minds is that of Adam Fantilli. It could have gone either way last year in who the league decided to give exceptional status to. There was talk between him and Shane Wright, before ultimately granting Wright status, going on to post impressive numbers with Kingston Frontenacs this past season.

However, Fantilli, along with his older brother, recently committed to the Chicago Steel of the USHL for the 2020/21 season. In a tweet sent out by Hockey News’ Ken Campbell, Fantilli said he hasn’t closed the door on an OHL career, just not for this upcoming season, and if the Battalion chose him, and he opts for the OHL, he would report in 2021/22.

Fantilli isn’t the only big name out there, however. Defender Ty Nelson, Pano Fimis, Kocha Delic, and Bryce McConnell-Barker all offer up interesting options. Either way, for owner Scott Abbott, it is all about acquiring young talent.

“We hope to acquire a great deal of talent in this draft and the next few drafts and we are certainly in position to do it this year with the first overall selection,” he said. “We are doing our due diligence towards that selection and we feel good about where we are going.”

Knowing the team is picking first has taken some of the stress off of Dennis, if only slightly.

“It puts the numbers in place right now,” he explained. “We know we are picking at number one, and number 30. It gives us an idea to dial in on who we think is going to be there, not necessarily with the first pick but certainly with the 30th pick. It gives us an idea of what to forecast and puts things closer to reality.”

Troops Marching On

One area that has been lacking for the Troops the last couple of years is drafting and developing of players. Since OHL hockey returned to North Bay, none of their first four first-round selections have finished their OHL careers with the team, or still play in North Bay. Brett McKenzie was the closest, but he was traded at the deadline of his overage year to Owen Sound for Matthew Struthers.

The last three, Brandon Coe, Pacey Schlueting and Liam Arnsby remain with the team, barring any trades. Even their last two drafts in Brampton, Brandon Robinson, and Blake Clarke were traded, albeit for help in playoff pushes.

Battalion draft
Liam Arnsby of the North Bay Battalion. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

However, the outlook these days is a lot more optimistic after a so-far successful 2019 OHL draft that produced the previously mentioned Arnsby, along with Paul and Alex Christopoulos.

“I think it’s really important to follow up on the success that we had last year,” Dennis stated. “We went in with a plan, we went in with a prototype of a player we wanted to bring into town and I think it is important we stay stubborn with our plan and continue to add players that are going to contribute and contribute the way we want.”

The draft starts Saturday at 9:00 a.m., but normally the first overall pick is announced the day prior. No matter who the Battalion take, fans can rest easy knowing there is some exciting talent on the way to augment the exciting young core already in place at Memorial Gardens.