Now that the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) regular season has come to an end and the postseason quaterfinal matchups have been set, it’s obvious who is going to come up big in big moments, the likes of Christian Dvorak, Mitch Marner, Dylan Strome and Travis Konecny, among plenty of others.
But there are several underrated, obscure major junior hockey players who are worth keeping an eye on as the playoffs get underway Thursday.
The hockey world loves big, imposing, physical players, and it definitely helps when they can score. At 6’3″, 227 lbs., Mike Amadio has always fit that description, but he was never quite the offensive force until last season, when he scored at just over a point-per-game pace.
But in the 2015-16 season, the North Bay Battalion’s captain finally arrived.
The right-handed center closed out the season atop the Battalion’s scoring list (and was a top-10 scorer in the OHL), tallying 98 points. He doubled his previous career-high in goals by scoring 50 this year, finishing behind only Dvorak (52), Alex DeBrincat and Andrew Mangiapane (51).
Without virtually no premier talent up front on the Battalion roster, Amadio has not had much to work with. The fact that he was able to generate offense relatively all on his own, registering almost 100 points in the process, shows how talented the Los Angeles Kings prospect truly is, and he will look to continue that in the postseason. It may have taken a while, but the true Amadio – who once scored 134 points in 39 games of bantam hockey – has finally arrived.
Unlike Amadio, forward Aaron Berisha does not have quite the hockey pedigree to garner significant attention of any kind. After he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 OHL Priority Selection Draft by the Belleville Bulls, he instead chose to play high school hockey in the 2011-12 season. By the time he reached the OHL, he struggled mightily to generate offense, and before this season, he had never eclipsed 40 points in a single season.
The London Knights, who acquired him early last year, felt that he was enough of a key asset to bring him back for 2015-16 as an overager. At 20 years old and without an NHL contract, the move may have salvaged Berisha’s hockey career prospects, as he has impressed tremendously this year.
The right winger has registered 72 points on the season, including a remarkable 45 goals. His unprecedented rise to prominence this season has helped provide the Knights with a great wealth of depth scoring, but the alternate captain has essentially been promoted from depth forward to top-six core forward over the course of the year.
Berisha has been playing inspired hockey all season long, and it’s not likely that he will slow down now — not when the most crucial part of the year is fast approaching and his team has been one of the hottest in the league as of late.
The fall of Brendan Perlini over the past few years has been fascinating. His development as a hockey player seemingly took a hit this year, as the former first-round draft pick (2012) went from scoring 60 points in just 43 games (2014-15) to 45 points in 57 games (2015-16). Such a disparity usually raises red flags with regard to prospect progression, but slumps do sometimes affect even the best of hockey players.
The playoffs are often referred to as a ‘blank slate’ or a ‘new’ season, and there have been plenty of instances where an underachiever all regular-season becomes a star in the postseason. It’s all about a player’s mentality and health, the latter of which has been an issue for Perlini in the past but seems to be all good as the IceDogs prepare for their first-round series against the Ottawa 67’s.
The Arizona Coyotes prospect has proven to be a key offensive contributor in the past; last year, he scored 12 points (7G, 5A) in just 11 games during the playoffs. He will likely want to finish his major junior career out strong with another dominant offensive showing this spring (assuming he doesn’t return as an overager next season), and with an even deeper team surrounding him this year, that shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish.