After a dormant period of activity post-Memorial Cup, the North Bay Battalion and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds broke the silent spell by announcing a trade Wednesday afternoon that saw overage goaltender Christian Propp go to the Greyhounds for a conditional 15th Round Pick (Soo’s) in the 2022 OHL Priority Selection.
Drafted by the Barrie Colts in the fifth round of the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, Propp was the 10th of 28 goalies picked in that draft. Taken from the Halton Hurricanes minor midget program where he played with Matthew Struthers, Propp was the highest draft pick the Colts had expended on a goalie since taking Mackenzie Blackwood in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. With one more season expected out of Blackwood in the OHL, Propp was sent to the Guelph Hurricanes of the GOJHL where he spent the majority of the ’15-16 season.
After Blackwood moved on to pro, the Colts left the starting job up for grabs in ’16-17 between Propp and Saginaw Spirit trade acquisition David Ovsjannikov. Both goaltenders saw over 30 games of action each on a Colts squad that finished last in the east and conceded the second most goals in the entire OHL.
The Colts completely retooled their crease for ’17-18 after sending Ovsjannikov back to the GOJHL, and acquired overage goaltender Leo Lazarev from the Ottawa 67s. Just days later, Propp was involved in an odd sequence of events which saw him traded to Owen Sound for draft picks, them immediately flipped to North Bay for defenceman Brady Lyle. With Brent Moran having graduated to Nipissing, the Battalion’s starting job was wide open, and much like the season prior, Propp split the duties with Julian Sime.
After splitting regular season action and starting all five playoff games for North Bay in ’17-18, Propp started the majority of the ’18-19 season with Christian Purboo serving as backup. After finishing seventh in the east, Propp and the Battalion were eliminated in five games by Niagara in the first round of the playoffs where Propp had to make 40+ saves in every game.
To clarify right off the bat, the Battalion have not just given up Propp for a 15th round pick in 2022. As of now, what the condition(s) is on that pick is not public, and there’s a number of possibilities as to how it may pan out. Conditional picks are typically dependent on criteria such as games played, whether or not a player reports, and even performance. What North Bay will get out of this in the long term is yet to be seen.
In the short term, this move opens up the way for their goalie of the future, Joe Vrbetic. It’s entirely possible Purboo returns for another season, but he’ll certainly be joined by Vrbetic who was taken 31st overall in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. Vrbetic was the second goalie taken in that draft (after Tristan Lennox), and the first goalie taken by the Battalion in the second round since they picked Brad Topping 27th overall in 2000. After a strong season in the NOJHL where he led the entire league in save percentage with Powassan, the Battalion think it’s time to see how Vrbetic fairs with a workload in the OHL.
While a door opens for one goaltender, another gets halfway closed. But the door is also half open for Ethan Taylor of Sault Ste. Marie. A ninth round pick from 2017, Taylor was the backup for Matthew Villalta in the Soo this season, and even took the reigns as the starter while Villalta dealt with injury. Taylor finished with 22 games to his credit and a respectable .894 save percentage which ranked third among OHL rookies. With Villalta likely gone for pro, it leaves Taylor with some big shoes to fill. But the Greyhounds aren’t ready to hand him the big minutes just yet.
It seems like every season Propp has played in the OHL, he’s been splitting crease time with somebody. That could be the case again if the Greyhounds do indeed keep him, which appears to be the likely scenario given Jaden Peca is the only other expected returning OA player. The Hounds could potentially move Propp again in the season if Taylor plays well early, or they could balance the two throughout most of the year, giving head coach John Dean the option play whoever has the hot hand. After all, Propp has showed he belongs in the OHL. While he may not be a top-end starting goalie, he’s coming off a solid season with North Bay, and has a penchant for making flashy saves.
With plenty of overage wiggle room, the Greyhounds sought out a goaltender that gives them options. This allows them to guide Taylor into a starting role without overworking him and also forces him to earn it. It also gives them a good fallback plan to rely on an OHL veteran in Propp if need be.