The 2015 OHL Priority Selection Draft is just days away, and some franchise-changing players sit atop the rankings. In fact, this OHL draft class may feature more top talent for the 2017 and 2018 NHL drafts than any other junior hockey league’s 2015 major junior draft group. We’ll give you the run-down of some of the top 2015 OHL prospects in anticipation of Saturday’s draft, slated to begin at 9:00 A.M. EST. You can watch the first three rounds live on ontariohockeyleague.com.
David Levin, LW
Four years ago, while the rest of the top 2015 OHL Draft prospects were playing in Ontario hockey circuits, David Levin was not even on the radar for OHL scouts. In fact, the currently-projected first overall pick in this year’s draft wasn’t even playing ice hockey at that point.
Levin was born in Israel where he spent most his life playing street and roller hockey. His Russian father was his coach growing up, pushing him hard to be the best he could be at roller hockey. But because he pursued perhaps the least popular sport in the country, there was a remote chance that Levin could have ever made a career out of his hockey skills.
In fact, there was only one rink in all of Israel, and it was four hours from his home. So at the age of 12, the Levin family made the decision to send young David to Canada to pursue ice hockey.
The first year I came, I was not that good. Inline hockey skating to ice skating is different. It took five-six months of working hard to improve. Israel was not like this. I feel very good now.
He began ice skating only three years ago, when he began playing high school hockey while living with his aunt and uncle in Canada. Fast-forward a few years, Levin dominated minor-midget hockey in his OHL draft season; the left winger scored 39 goals and 41 assists for 80 points in just 55 games with the Don Mills Flyers.
The high-scoring forward is almost the consensus first overall pick at the 2015 draft, meaning he will likely be suiting up for the Sudbury Wolves this coming fall. Levin will be the go-to guy in Sudbury for the next few seasons, since the team is in a rebuild phase after one of their most dismal seasons in recent memory.
And since he will miss the 2017 NHL Draft cut-off by one day, Levin will play three seasons in the OHL – just enough time for Wolves management to build a contender around the high-scoring winger and contend before he is eligible for the NHL Draft in 2018.
Gabe Vilardi, C
Kingston, Ontario native Gabe Vilardi was as an offensive force for the CIHA Voyageurs this season. Vilardi scored 39 points (18G, 21A) in 21 games with the minor midget club and eight points (4G, 4A) in just three games with the midget club. The 6’2,” 185-lb. right-handed center has the potential to become one of the best 2017 NHL Draft prospects to emerge from this year’s OHL draft group.
He’s an all around offensive force but Vilardi ultimately will likely develop into more of a playmaker than a scorer, not to underrate his goal scoring ability. His offensive zone vision is very advanced at his age group and he shows a consistent ability to make plays that few of his peers are capable of making.
The key word from his scouting report is ‘all around,’ as Vilardi is a versatile forward with excellent defensive skills. In fact, his wide-range skill set earned him the OEMHL Player of the Year Award, and should he be available at number two overall, the Windsor Spitfires would be foolish not to select him.
Gabe is a big, strong centre who is hard to defend against and is gifted with hockey sense that is off the charts. He reads and anticipates plays very well in all three zones and is most effective when the puck is on his stick from the top of the circles down. His size and vision enables him to make plays in traffic. Gabe isn’t afraid to take the puck to the net and create offense for himself and his teammates. He shoots the puck very well with a quick release. [He] has developed into a guy who desires to play 200 feet and contribute in all facets of the game.
Ryan McLeod, C
A player with an exceptional pre-major junior hockey resume, Ryan McLeod also has bragging rights as far as where he comes from. The Mississauga, Ontario native’s older brother Michael was drafted fifth overall last year by their hometown OHL club, the Steelheads. Their older brother Matt is committed to Canisius College in the NCAA for next season. And in an interesting situation, with Mississauga drafting fourth overall, the younger two McLeod brothers could join each other in Mississauga next season and make for a formidable pair down the middle.
But it wouldn’t be the first time the two have played on a big stage in Canadian hockey, rather it’d be a reunion.
I had the opportunity to play in the Championship game as a call-up with my brother last year. He’s really helped me through my career and has always told me just to play the game my way, the way I know how and that things will all come together.
Michael was named MVP of the 2014 OHL Cup tournament, winning the Tim Adams Memorial Trophy as he led the Marlboros to a championship; and just a year later, Ryan has followed in his footsteps. Except he may have outdone his older brother this year.
Ryan scored three goals and four assists in the 2015 OHL Cup tournament, winning the MVP title and a championship over the Don Mills Flyers. But McLeod had a fantastic regular season preceding his excellence in the OHL Cup as well, scoring 81 points (30G, 51A) in 74 games. He was named GTHL Player of the Year for his exceptional season, and also won gold with Team Ontario at the Canada Winter Games.
4. Ryan McLeod, Toronto Marlboros – Best three month time period I’ve seen in a while. Truly elevated his game since January. High end skill
— Sean Lafortune (@SeanLafortune) March 30, 2015
Joining OHL Cup MVPs like Connor McDavid (2012), Sean Monahan (2010) and Steven Stamkos (2006), McLeod has already made a name for himself joining an elite group of recent minor hockey grads. But as evidenced by the case of 2008 tournament MVP John McFarland (who scored eight goals and seven assists for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens), earning that honor doesn’t guarantee excellence in the OHL and beyond. He will have to prove that he can be an elite player at the OHL level, but if he is anything like his brother Michael (whom he is often compared to), he will be just fine.
Ryan will remind you a lot of his older brother Michael McLeod. He is an effortless skater that can beat a defender as if he were standing still. Ryan has the ability to slow the game down when he needs to and doesn’t always have to play the game at 100mph. He is a playmaker first, and is always looking to set up his teammates. Was a consistent presence in the Marlboros lineup and was named 2015 OHL Cup MVP.
It’ll be interesting to see what Mississauga does with its fourth pick at this year’s draft should Ryan still be available, as it would take a lot for them to pass him up.
Owen Tippett, RW
A natural right-handed right winger with an excellent scorer’s touch, Peterborough native Owen Tippett will be selected early in the OHL draft thanks to his unique attributes. And furthermore, his size (6’1,” 181 lbs.) for a 16 year-old is pretty impressive. But perhaps the most unique thing about him is his versatility and where he was in hockey justa few years ago.
I was an assistant coach on the bench with him my first year retired from playing myself. Owen became a defenceman to me, because he wasn’t really working out as a forward, if you can believe that. Turns out, it was just a bunch of confidence issues. Every player is different and every player reacts differently to different kinds of coaches and we just started believing in Owen and he started believing in us. And when Owen believes in you, that guy will go through the wall for you.
The defender-turned-sniper played a few games for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens in the OJHL – scoring two goals and an assist in six games – in addition to playing out his final GTMMHL season with the Toronto Red Wings. Perhaps the best goal-scorer in the draft, Tippett will likely be one of the most potent scorers in the OHL over the next two years before he becomes eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft.
He’s got an NHL-level shot right now. He’s probably going to put up the most goals in the age group and he’s a catch and release guy who will probably mesh very well. He’s definitely a top-three, top-four guy and if he went first overall, it wouldn’t be a bad decision.