It’s no secret that the Canadian junior ranks and the American collegiate ranks compete over prized prospects constantly. In most cases, once a young player decides on their route, there is no going back. Playing even one game in the OHL, WHL, or QMJHL disqualifies an athlete from NCAA participation so there is no recourse once the major junior path is chosen. However, there are rare occurrences where some prospects play for or commit to a a college program before eventually joining a junior club instead. Incredibly, the OHL’s London Knights landed two such players today. The team announced that both Jonathan Gruden and Bryce Montgomery have joined the organization ahead of the 2019-20 season. Gruden, who turns 19 tomorrow, was a fourth-round pick of the Ottawa Senators last year and played for Miami University this season. Despite a promising 15-point freshman season, Gruden decided that the college game was not for him for some reason. Last month, he shockingly signed his entry-level contract with the Senators, giving up the rest of his NCAA eligibility. Gruden is not yet eligible to play in the AHL and is not close to ready for the NHL, so it was a foregone conclusion that he would join the Knights, who held his CHL junior rights. As for Montgomery, his change of heart is a new surprise. The 16-year-old American is a highly-touted young defenseman who was expected to play at the prep school level for a couple more years before joining Providence College. Instead, he has reneged on that commitment in favor of getting to the next step in his development even sooner with London. The Friars’ loss is the Knights’ gain, as Montgomery has the size and strength to be a difference-maker immediately at the junior level. Both he and Gruden are major additions for a London program that has become one of the best developers of talent in all of junior hockey in recent years.
- Sometimes prospects don’t just have to decide between whether the college game or junior game is better for their development, but rather if North America is the right choice for them overall. Two talented 2019 draft-eligible prospects have tested the waters and decided to return home for next season. Lassi Alanen, a European scout for Future Considerations, reports that Ilves of the Finnish Liiga have welcomed back defenseman Lassi Thomson and brought in forward Matias Macelli for next season. Thomson, expected to be a late first- or early-second round pick in June, spent this past year with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. While he excelled, leading all Rockets defensemen with 17 goals and 41 points in 63 games, he clearly feels the pro game would be a better next step for his growth. While Thomson possesses great skill and skating ability, there is room to improve defensively and physically, which will be easier to do against older competition. Thomson also has experience with Ilves, having grown up in their junior ranks. Macelli is new to Ilves – he was a TPS product prior to his move overseas – but the team is likely just as excited to have him. Macelli spent the last two seasons with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints and in 2018-19 finished third in the league in scoring with 72 points in 62 games. The talented winger was in the top five of both goals and assists in the USHL, as he showed a balanced offensive attack. Expected to be a second- or third-round pick this spring, Macelli has the makings of a player who could prove to be a draft steal if his skill set translates to the pro level.
- A fellow Finn who is keeping college, junior, and Liiga teams alike waiting is forward Marcus Kallionkieli. Like Macelli, Kallionkieli is a skilled forward out of the USHL expected to land in the second or third round of the draft this year. A bigger, stronger winger, Kallionkieli has adopted the North American style and has become and adept goal-scorer, notching 29 goals and 53 points in 58 games this season for the Sioux City Musketeers. Although Kallionkieli was reportedly focused on a college scholarship, and at one point linked to the University of Denver where teammate and presumptive first-round pick Bobby Brink is headed, there has been no commitment to this point. He could opt to play another year in the USHL before joining the college ranks or he could turn his attention to the CHL or a return to Finland. There’s even a chance that the team that drafts him wants to see if his mature game is ready for the AHL right away, although that might be a long shot. One way or another, the intriguing forward is a name to watch out for.