Ones To Watch: An Early Look Towards 2017-18 (Part 1)

Kirill Nizhnikov Terry Wilson OHL ImagesThe junior hockey season came to an end just a few days ago, so what better time is there than now to look ahead to the 2017-18 OHL campaign. Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome certainly fit the mould of dominant players this year, while the likes of Kevin Hancock and Jason Roberston were breakout stars. The following is a list of players, one from every OHL team, who regional scout Andrew Sykes sees as grabbing headlines in the upcoming season, starting with the Barrie Colts, Erie Otters, Flint Firebirds, Guelph Storm and Hamilton Bulldogs.

Barrie Colts 

Kirill Nizhnikov’s top ranked forward in the 2016 OHL draft class and second-ranked player overall behind Ryan Merkley, Nizhnikov hit double-digits in goals as a rookie for the last-place Colts. While its no guarantee the Colts as a team will make a jump from last year, expect the dynamic Russian to assert himself as a lethal scoring threat. The former Toronto Jr. Canadiens standout won’t have great help around him, but for the type of player he is that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. With his size, silky puck-skills, and pro-calibre shooting attributes, Nizhnikov has the individual tools and confidence needed to do what few players can do, and that is create offense all by his lonesome. 

Verdict: Breakout goal-scoring star 

Bold Off-Season Prediction: Stakes his claim as one of the top 2000-aged players in the CHL and improves his draft stock with a 30-goal campaign while offering many dazzling moments for the Barrie faithful. 

Wild-Card: Andrei Svechnikov 

The all-world prospect could be selected as the #1 overall pick in the 2017 CHL Import Draft, and with all due respect to Nizhnikov, he would immediately become the main attraction in Barrie heading into the 2017-18 season. 


Erie Otters

Ivan Lodnia 

The 2017 NHL Draft eligible Lodnia produced 24 goals and 57 points in his sophomore campaign with the OHL champion Otters, and with the likes of Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat moving on, he will be front and centre for a team that looks like will experience a bit of a rebuilding phase. Ranked by Central Scouting as Ivan Lodnia Terry Wilson OHL Images
the 36th North American skater, Lodnia’s numbers in his draft year are impressive if you look at the way 

in which he bounced around the Erie lineup and played second fiddle to some of the top players in all of the CHL. The American-born winger features high-end hockey sense with an innate ability to manoeuvre and work his way through traffic. He’s the type of player who oozes skill and creativity with the puck on his stick, possesses natural instincts for moving off the puck, and is willing and able to make plays in traffic. 

Verdict: Don’t call it a breakout, rather more of a “getting what’s coming to him” 

Bold Off-Season Prediction: Depending on the status of Taylor Raddysh, he leads the Otters in scoring and puts himself into the mix for USA’s World Junior team. 


Flint Firebirds 

Nick Caamano 

Nicholas Caamano (Terry Wilson - OHL Images)Quietly flying under the radar this year were the 35 goals, 64 points, and a nice three-year entry-level contract for Flint Firebirds winger Nick Caamano. Flint has some interesting roster decisions to make with a fair amount of turnover but Caamano will be back to lead the way up front. The Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs product has made impressive strides in his three OHL seasons and looks to be a steal of a pick by the Dallas Stars who took him in the 5th round of the 2016 NHL Draft. A speedy, scoring winger in his OHL Draft year, Caamano has blossomed into a prototypical NHL winger who brings ideal stature, skill, and the versatile attributes to where he can play in either a top 6 or bottom 6 role at the next level. 

Verdict: Top-tier, go-to player 

Bold Off-Season Prediction: Among the league-leaders in goals and points and gets an in invitation to Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp. 


Guelph Storm 

Ryan Merkley 

Ryan Merkley (Terry Wilson - OHL Images)There are many worthy candidates on a promising Guelph team loaded with young talent but it is hard to pass on a guy who led his team in scoring as a rookie defenceman to be an even bigger attraction in his second-season. There is always a varying of opinions on defensemen like Merkley with critics too often looking at what he isn’t instead of focusing on what he is. A physical specimen and shut-down defender? No. A supremely gifted talent who can control the game, make opposing players look silly, and be the ultimate difference-maker from the back-end? Yes. There really isn’t much else to say about the 2017 OHL Rookie of the Year other than to just sit back and marvel because you won’t see players like this every day. 

Verdict: Unique weapon and dominant point-producing rearguard 

Bold Off-Season Prediction: Predicting that he will lead all OHL defensemen in scoring is almost too obvious at this point. A more bold prediction is that he challenges for the Max Kaminsky Trophy as OHL Defensemen of the Year. 


Hamilton Bulldogs 

Will Bitten 

Will Bitten (Aaron Bell - OHL Images)On the surface it may be surprising that Bitten registered less points in his first year in Hamilton than he did the previous season with Flint but there are a lot of factors at play there. The Bulldogs have a very nice looking group of forwards ready to do some damage next season and Bitten will be the top pivot facilitating it all. With a year of gaining comfort with a new team and finding chemistry with new teammates under his belt, the Montreal Canadiens 3rd round pick should be one of the top all-around players in the OHL in 2017-18 and the on and off-ice leader of a promising team in Hamilton. 

Verdict: All-Star center 

Bold Off-Season Prediction: 80+ points, forms one of the top scoring duos in the league with Matthew Strome, and makes Team Canada in a spark plug role similar to Blake Speers this year. 


Check back in to for the next five up from the Kingston Frontenacs, Kitchener Rangers, London Knights, Mississauga Steelheads, and Niagara Icedogs


Written by Andrew Sykes



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