The Americans are for real.
After a full four days spent in Whitby watching minor midget hockey at the Silver Stick tournament, that’s the visible takeaway for most. Most of the buzz around the upcoming OHL draft had been circulating around the strong American contingency of players in this age-group, this weekend they showed it was for real. Not only did an American team finally figure out how to beat Don Mills, but it was an American player who stole the headlines of the whole tournament. For many, Shane Wright is still the top draft-eligible player out there, but he may have met his match with American counterpart Sasha Pastujov.
The Pastujov name isn’t new to hockey. Matter of fact, it’s the third time it’s been through the High Performance Hockey League. However, both Michael and Nick, brothers of Sasha, represented the Honeybaked program. Both now play for the Univ. of Michigan and Nick is an unsigned seventh round draft pick of the New York Islanders. Sasha looks to follow in those footsteps, but most scouts will tell you he’s projecting to be the best of the three brothers.
As is the case with many top American players from the Silver Stick tournament, Pastujov is committed to the NCAA where he will join the Univ. of Notre Dame in 2021. He’ll be eligible for the upcoming OHL Priority Selection, but the chances of him choosing an OHL team over Notre Dame are “unlikely at best” as explained to me by an OHL general manager.
But that hasn’t stopped OHL teams from taking top American players before in the OHL draft. Mississauga did it with Jack Hughes, and Sarnia did it with Tyler Weiss. In both cases, the player in question has stuck with their commitment to play in the United States so far. But Arthur Kaliyev, Antonio Stranges, and Mack Guzda are all recent examples of talented Americans taken early in the OHL draft who have willingly migrated north of the border.
Part of the challenge in the OHL draft is not just finding the best player available, but the best available that is also willing to report to your team. That process could be complicated more than normal this year with so much first round American talent out there. Apart from Pastujov, who led the Silver Stick tournament with 16 points and was named tournament MVP, his teammate Dylan Duke has drawn a lot of interest after his 14 point performance on the weekend. Joining them is Red Savage, who is following up a strong year in bantam with another in the U16 division of the HPHL. But much like Pastujov, Duke (Univ. of Michigan) and Savage (Miami Ohio) are both committed to NCAA programs.
The Chicago Mission also showed up with a strong contingency of players this year, and advanced through to the quarter-finals before losing 3-0 to Don Mills. But much like Compuware, much of their American top-talent have signed commitments with NCAA programs, namely Davis Burnside (Ohio State) and Jack Devine (Denver).
NCAA programs have even managed to pick up some of top Canadian talent too. Roman Schmidt of the Don Mills Flyers was one of the best defencemen at the whole tournament, and is committed to Boston Univ. for 2021. Then there’s Ryan Del Monte, a top forward from the Toronto Nationals who’s set to attend Harvard in 2021.
The amount of American talent and NCAA commitments already in place looks to make the first few rounds of the OHL draft more complicated than normal. Some teams might hit the jackpot, others might get burned. But there’s still lots of time for the picture to become clear. For now, here’s some other takeaways from the 2018 Silver Stick tournament.
- Although Don Mills suffered a heart-breaking defeat, Shane Wright had a great tournament and for a few, still stood above Pastujov as the best player on the ice in Whitby this weekend. While his physical attributes continue to develop, specifically his shot, it’s obvious to everyone that he thinks the game unlike any other at the minor midget level. His skating ability is also at a far higher level than most for his age, but his ability to process the game and think quickly is what makes him stand out right now.
- At just 13 years old, Adam Fantilli is already making a big impression on scouts. He’s not eligible until the 2020 draft, but he’s definitely still worth watching. His skating and agility is at a highly advanced level and will continue to shine as his physical attributes develop. Teammate Francesco Pinelli also caught the eye of many scouts this week and will be worth keeping an eye on as a top prospect ahead of the OHL draft.
- Lots of great defencemen on display this weekend, but perhaps none better than Brandt Clarke who has first round pick written all over him. Another piece on a stacked Don Mills team, he has size and smarts. An aggressive two-way player, when given the opportunity, he did what he wanted with the puck and looked dangerous against everybody, highlighted by a two goal performance versus York-Simcoe.
- Speaking of great defencemen, Landon Cato of the Young Nationals is drawing very positive reviews from scouts. But again, he’s yet another NCAA commit who’s scheduled to attend UMass (Amherst) in 2022.
- As far as goaltending goes, Josh Rosenzweig is the early favourite among scouts to be the top goaltending prospect heading into the draft. Playing with the Toronto Red Wings, he had a strong showing on the weekend and has strong technical ability, better than most in his age-group.
- The Toronto Marlboros may not have the best team in the GTHL this year, but they’ve still got some solid OHL prospects. Justin O’Donnell had a few above average single game performances, and Danny Zhilkin (committed to Boston Univ.) was one of the most skilled players in Whitby. Defensively they have a few pieces of interest with puck-moving D-Man Ethan Del Mastro and hard-hitting Russian Artem Guryev.
- The Whitby Wildcats had a nice run into the semi-finals at Iroquois Sports Park before being stopped by the Don Mills Flyers, 4-1. Brenden Sirizzotti was the standout for the Wildcats this weekend with 10 points in six games.
- Before Compuware handed Don Mills their first loss of the season, it was the Brantford 99ers who almost managed to do that on Saturday afternoon. Up 3-1, it took a late comeback from Don Mills to tie the game, which finished as a 3-3 final. Brantford somehow ended up tying all four games they played. Among a few notable performers from Brantford was defencman Cole Hipkin who appears to be one of the most prolific puck-moving defencemen eligible for the draft.