OHL Defense of the Year
With the OHL regulaer season officially cancelled, and the playoffs still in the air, the OHL Network has decided to hand out some season awards.
Ahead of you is candidates for the top five OHL defense of the year. Who do you think follows 2018-19 winner Evan Bouchard of the London Knights and wins the 2019-20 Max Kiminsky Award!
But first, I’m going to start with some honorable mentions. Obviously you don’t just pick the Top 5 leading scorers, that’s too easy, and some players, that are difference makers, get missed.
Let’s start with Peterborough Petes top blue-liner, Declan Chisholm. The Bowmanville, ON native had an outstanding year posting 69 points in only 59 games played placing him 3rd in team scoring.
Some might say that he was able to put up so many points because of the supporting cast. Having Mason McTavish, Akil Thomas and Nick Robertson surely made helped, but Chisholm trended up in points every season he’s been with the Pete’s. The Winnipeg Jets took notice of this trend taking him in the 5th round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Next is New York Islanders top prospect, and Saginaw Spirit defender, Bode Wilde. The hulking 6-foot-3, 193 lb. defender, taken in the 2nd round at 2018 NHL Draft didn’t play a full season in the OHL, but was able to be dominant in the 11 games he did play with 11 points.
The two-way defenceman played 20 games with the Islanders AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, but was eventually sent back to the OHL. There is no doubt that Wilde would be in the Top 5 list had he played a full season with Saginaw.
The next two players had great rookie campaigns, and I’m sure you will see them on this list. Potentially as early as next season.
Let’s start with Barrie Colts, Brandt Clarke. Clarke was part of a powerhouse Don Mills Flyer’s team including current OHL stars such as Francesco Arcuri and Shane Wright (Kingston Frontenacs), Brennan Othmann (Flint Firebirds), and Liam Arnsby with Paul and Alex Christopoulos (North Bay Battalion).
Clarke was selected 4th overall in last summers OHL Draft and made an immediate impact with Barrie ending the season with 38 points good for 18th overall among defensive scoring. I have a hard time believing he won’t be on this list next season.
Next is a lesser known rookie from the Windsor Spitfires, Ruben Rafkin. Selected 14th overall by Windsor during the 2019 CHL Import Draft, he hails from Finland. Rafkin came over to the United States playing two seasons with the Selects Hockey Academy of South Kent before heading to the Tri-City Storm of the USHL the next season. This helped translate into Rafkin cracking the Spitfires line up this year.
Rafkin accumulated 31 points this season, only seven shy of Clarke and is eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft currently ranked 52nd by Future Considerations. If Rafkin, 18, does end up back in the OHL next season, look for him to be a deadly force on the Spitfire blueline.
Secretaries of Defense
Now lets countdown the candidates for the top OHL defense of the year beginning with number five, Riley McCourt of the Flint Firebirds.
McCourt started his OHL career in Hamilton, but was acquired by Flint in 2018 and has really started to spread his wings. The small-framed, mobile defender was able to get an impressive 32 points in 47 games last season, despite being on one of the worst teams in the OHL.
Flint clearly knew what they had in McCourt and during the off-season brought in some help. First, they acquired Anthony Popovich who won the OHL Championship last season with Guelph Storm, then drafted Brennan Othmann 2nd overall who has made an immediate impact this season.
Now the Firebirds are a top team in the OHL earning the fifth most points. McCourt quarterbacked their backend this season adding 62 points in 63 games, and sits fifth overall in OHL defense scoring. During an excellent 2019-20 season McCourt has been enjoying, he’s also wrote his name into Flint record books, becoming the highest scoring defencemen in history.
Listed as the 161st ranked player by NHL Central Scouting in the 2018 Entry Draft, McCourt has since been passed over. He attended the Dallas Stars development camp in 2018, and clearly, this OHL season is showing just how much teams missed passing on him. I’d bet he ends up back at an NHL camp soon after this year’s showing.
Number four on our list of top defensemen is a player who’s name you will hear called during this summers NHL Entry Draft. Jamie Drysdale of the Erie Otters was taken 4th overall in the 2018 OHL Selection, and is currently a top-ranked NHL prospect. Most experts calling him the top-ranked defensemen for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Drysdale put up 47 points in 49 games this season and was a threat every time he touched the puck. The smooth skating native of Toronto, ON made everyone around him a better player. Additionally, he made the World Junior Team Canada team capturing a Gold Medal, something I’m sure Drysdale will never forget. This has been an extraordinary year for the future NHL star, and with the draft fast approaching, it looks like it is only going to get better for him.
The number three defender might be a surprise to some. Owen Sound Attack blueliner Brady Lyle. Lyle is much like McCourt, undrafted, out to prove something to the hockey-world. But, unlike McCourt in Flint, Lyle doesn’t have the high-powered supporting cast that some of the names listed, or to be listed have.
Lyle was a steady force in Owen Sound this season racking up 65 points in 62 games placing him 4th in overall defense scoring in the OHL. He was also able to take over the top spot in franchise history for scoring by a defencemen. This is exactly why he made this Top-5 list.
Yes, Drysdale looks poised to have a great career and expand to the NHL, but right now, in junior, Lyle gets that one up for me. This also isn’t just a one-off year for Lyle either, check his stats. He hasn’t played his whole junior career in the OHL with one team, bouncing from his hometown North Bay Battalion, taken 18th overall in 2015, to his home right now in Owen Sound. Yet, every year the 20-year-old blueliner has improved his play and point totals. I would be a little surprised if he is left off an NHL teams camp roster this off-season.
Now onto the top two. Both players are obvious picks for these positions on this list. Both had amazing seasons in the OHL and contributed every time they stepped on the ice for their respective squads.
Ryan Merkley comes in runner-up. The London Knights star blueliner, and 21st overall pick by San Jose Sharks in 2018, who has dynamic and next level skating ability, was able to find the score sheet 76 times this season! Merkley was taken by Guelph Storm back in 2016 with the 1st overall selection but has been plagued with “issues”.
Guelph dealt him during their impressive playoff run last season to Peterborough, who then sent him to London, were he has shined, and shown why he was a top prospect for the NHL. It appears his critics have quieted down this season with his success in London, and I’m sure the Sharks are the happiest team out of all of this having landed such a talented player.
And finally, the player who we deemed the top OHL defense of the year, and the winner of the Max Kiminsky Award, hails from the OHL powerhouse Ottawa 67’s.
Noel Hoefenmayer, a North York, ON native, who also came from the Don Mills program was a 4th round pick by in 2017 by the Arizona Coyotes. He tore the OHL apart this season, posting a ridiculous 82 points in only 58 games played for Ottawa. He only took the sixth-least penalty minutes than any other defenseman on the top-20 scoring chart and he led all defenders with a plus-52.
Last season he was just shy of a point-a-game player during the regular season and had his coming out party in the playoffs posting19 points in 18 games. Ottawa was hoping that would trend and translate into this season, which it clearly has, and then some. Now as mentioned with Brady Lyle, Hoefenmayer definitely has a great supporting cast in Ottawa. Surely with that in mind, your confidence goes up and you start playing out of your mind, but the season Noel had is definitely on a different level. Some how, the Coyotes were able to find this gem in the 4th round, and if his big frame, and scoring ability can translate to the NHL level, he could be the steal of his draft-year.
Let us know who you think will win the OHL Defense of the year on Twitter @Network_OHL