Tonight marks the start of the championship series in the OHL, which will determine which team represents the league in the annual Memorial Cup tournament, made up of the top teams of each of the three Canadian Hockey League entities. This year, that tournament will be held in Windsor, Ontario meaning that the hometown Spitfires will get also get a berth—even though they were knocked out of the first round of these OHL playoffs.
In the finals we’ll see the powerhouse Erie Otters take on the upstart Mississauga Steelheads, a battle between the top team in the league this season versus a team who led their division, but would have placed no higher than third in any other. Erie had an extremely difficult road to the finals, needing an overtime game in the seventh match of their second round series to stay alive. Mississauga on the other hand lost just three games in three series, showing once again that regular season play doesn’t necessarily mean much in the postseason.
Now, the two teams will crash together and show off the next wave of talent for the NHL, some of which has even already had a taste of the NHL. First, let’s look at some already-drafted players who will make the jump to professional hockey very soon.
Dylan Strome, Erie Otters/Arizona Coyotes
The third-overall pick in the 2015 draft was a disappointment to some when he couldn’t do enough to lock up a job this fall in Arizona. In his seven game taste, he registered just a single assist and wasn’t his dominant self at the World Juniors. Since he has returned to Erie though he’s shown that the OHL just isn’t enough for him. With 75 points in 35 games, Strome showed a glimpse of how he was possibly taken ahead of Mitch Marner and Noah Hanifin in his draft year.
Alex DeBrincat, Erie Otters/Chicago Blackhawks
DeBrincat was a linemate of Strome’s in the second half and the pair (along with Tampa’s Taylor Raddysh) made one of the most dominant groups in recent memory. The Chicago Blackhawks second-round pick scored 65 goals and 127 points in 63 games, and has added another 31 in the playoffs so far. All this from a kid who was cut from the Team USA World Junior squad this season—he took it personally.
Michael McLeod, Mississauga Steelheads/New Jersey Devils
A first-round pick from last summer, McLeod is one of the strongest skaters in the league and uses it to play pro-style hockey up and down the rink. Not the offensive talent that either Strome or DeBrincat are, he did nonetheless put up 73 points in 57 games and has turned it up even further in the playoffs. He limits opposing teams when he’s on the ice with his puck possession, and will be an excellent NHL player for a long, long time.
There are also several draft-eligible prospects in the series, some who hold huge roles on their respective teams. Two from the Steelheads stand out as first-round locks in this summer’s draft.
Owen Tippett, Mississauga Steelheads
Tippett is about as “pure” of a goal-scorer you can find in this year’s draft, embodying the sniper archetype. He can score from anywhere in the offensive zone with an incredible wrist shot or power moves to the net. He scored 44 goals in 60 games, and has added another seven in the playoffs. While he’s not the big center that everyone hopes for early in the draft, he’ll be selected in the top-10 because of his ability to put the puck in the net. He’s not quite Patrik Laine, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make an immediate impact as a rookie.
Nicolas Hague, Mississauga Steelheads
You wouldn’t believe it if you saw the lanky 6’5″ defender, but Hague can move around the ice better than most defenders in the league and has natural offensive instincts. His defensive game has come a long way, and seems committed to improving at the next level. He scored 18 goals in the regular season, jumping into the rush and unleashing a raw but powerful shot from the point. Returning to the OHL next season after going somewhere in the middle of round one, he should be one of the top defenders in the league.
Ivan Lodnia, Erie Otters
Lodnia won’t turn 18 until August, and is still extremely raw as a prospect. His ability to grind down opponents is already apparent though, and his offensive game has started to round into form even being buried somewhat on a veteran Erie team. After 56 points in 66 games in the regular season, he’s completely disappeared in the playoffs thus far. He’ll likely drop down into the middle of the second round, but someone may get a hidden gem in that spot. When the Otters lose 5-6 forwards ahead of him this summer, he’ll be front-and-center as a top scoring option next year.