Chomping down on those arena hot dogs for dinner isn’t too bad for Rob Stewart when at least it means he and his team of Barrie Colts scouts get to evaluate the next wave of OHL talent.
The COVID-19 pandemic pretty much shut down all things junior hockey league over the last couple of seasons, but the Colts’ assistant general manager, director of player personnel Mark Seidel and their staff were able to get back in rinks full time this season in preparation for the 2022 OHL Priority Selection, which begins Friday night with the top three rounds and rounds four to 15 on Saturday morning.
“Our scouting staff does a great job,” said Stewart. “It’s a labour love type of thing. These guys, they enjoy being in the rinks and watching the kids compete every day. That’s something that was taken away from us the last little while here, so it’s definitely good to get back at it.
“I think everybody around the league would agree with that.”
The Saginaw Spirit made the obvious official Thursday morning when they announced they were taking Mississauga Senators centre Michael Misa, who was granted exceptional status by the OHL, with the first pick overall.
The Colts are in a good position to add some elite talent to the stable with the 10th pick overall and three of the first 30 selections in the draft.
Barrie has picks 26 and 29 overall in the second round along with Ottawa’s third-round pick, a fourth-round selection and two in each of the fourth and fifth rounds.
That’s four picks in the top 50 of an OHL draft pundits are calling deep and loaded with elite skill.
“I would say the top 50 players are very good,” said Stewart. “There’s a lot of skill available both upfront and on the back end. We’re fortunate to have three picks in the top 30 here, so we feel pretty good what we’ll be able to acquire.”
While Stewart says they’ll look to take the best player available with their 10th overall selection, addressing the needs on the blueline will be a primary focus.
Stewart says the club will press take the best talent and then let the lineup set itself out in training camp.
“In this first round, for sure, you take the best player available, but I think it’s important for us to try and get a defenceman here on Day 1 and put a little emphasis on building up our stable of defencemen as we move along through the draft on Saturday,” he said.
Stewart and the Colts will have plenty of talent to pick from if they choose to grab a defenceman.
Sam Dickinson of the GTHL’s Toronto Marlboros is considered the top point man in the draft and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sudbury Wolves take him with the third pick overall.
Dickinson is a strong skater and good puck mover with a pin-point shot and provides a reliable two-way game.
Henry Mews of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens is another who should hear his name called early. The offensive defenceman is a workhorse whose strong skating can help him go on the attack, while still being able to get back to defend.
Smooth skating Quinte Red Devils captain Ben Danford is an elite, elusive skater who plays with great poise when the puck is on his stick. The smart defender is another who could go early in the first round.
“There is a lot of talent on the back end,” said Stewart. “A pretty good year for defencemen at the top, I would say.”
Stewart says he has a pretty good feeling about what the club will do when its time on the clock comes up.
“We got it down to three or four guys,” he said. “We’ll see what plays out in front of us. When we’re on the clock, I think we’ll have a player sitting there that we really like.”
Whoever they do get with that top pick, they should be able to step right in next season.
“For sure, especially this year,” said Stewart. “The first round there’s going to be players that can step in and make an impact right away. I think we’re sitting in a pretty good position at 10 that we’ll get a guy that we like and probably a guy that we have higher-ranked at that position.
“We’re pretty happy with what we’ll be able to accomplish with that first pick.”
There’s no shortage of elite offensive talent up front available. Mississauga Senators centre Malcolm Spence is expected to go second overall to the Erie Otters, while Toronto Jr. Canadiens centre Michael Hage was set to go in the first four picks, but will likely fall after signing an agreement with the Chicago Steel of the USHL.
Ottawa area prospect Nathan Villeneuve and Mississauga Senators winger Bode Stewart should also go early in the draft.
“There’s certainly a wealth of talent,” said Stewart. “There’s (deep teams like) the Mississauga Senators, the Toronto Jr. Canadiens and pretty good talent in Ottawa. I think there’s a lot of guys that will be able to step in and contribute right away.
I don’t know where you say it ranks among the past drafts, we always say, ‘this is the best,’ but there’s definitely a wealth of talent this year.”
Barrie now has 17 picks in this year’s draft after a pair of deals this week. The club moved a third-round pick to Owen Sound for a second in 2024 and a sixth in 2025 and acquired a 15th-round pick this year and a fifth-round pick in 2025 from Peterborough for a sixth-round pick on Saturday.
“We talked as a group here and we do have a lot of picks in this draft and we’re just kind of managing some assets and pushing something out to kind of spread our wealth a little further down the road,” Stewart said of moving some of this year’s picks.
The Colts will also look to add talent in the crease, though it’s expected that will come on Saturday.
With a strong group expected to return from the team battling the Mississauga Steelheads in the first round, Stewart says the club feels pretty good looking ahead.
“Watching these guys play down the stretch with all of our injuries and stuff, I think it’s pretty impressive what our young guys have been able to step in and do right away,” he said. “Hopefully we can add to that group and have a pretty bright future.”
The OHL Priority Selection begins at 7 p.m. on Friday night and will be streamed for free in its entirety on CHL TV.
Fans can also watch complete Day 1 coverage on Rogers TV as well as on the OHL Action Pak.
images courtesy OHL Images