2021 NHL Draft Review: 5 Undervalued OHL Prospects

With the 2021 NHL Draft officially in the books, the time has come to review the prospects who were — and weren’t — selected within the event. Once again, the Ontario Hockey League was well represented, with 30 of the 224 players chosen in the Draft hailing from prominent organizations with the League. The most notable of these 30 players were Mason McTavish and Brandt Clarke — two incredibly skilled youngsters whose play and prominence led to their selections within the top-ten overall.

While a handful of other talented OHL prospects were also chosen inside of the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft, it was those who were chosen later — or not at all — which garnered a great deal of attention come the conclusion of the event. It is no secret that the OHL did not play during the 2020-21 season due to the Coronavirus pandemic — a reality which had a detrimental impact on the progression of hundreds of players who suddenly found themselves without a place to play during the campaign. This inability to showcase their personal skill-sets undoubtedly impacted their respective draft stocks, as a number of wildly talented OHL players were selected shockingly late within the 2021 NHL Draft, or not at all.

While it goes without saying that being selected by an NHL franchise regardless of the round is nothing less than an honour and incredible accomplishment, here are five youngsters who we believe were woefully undervalued by all 32 franchises over the course of the 2021 NHL Draft.

Benjamin Gaudreau

2020-21 Statistics: 5-0-0, .919%, 2.20GAA (WJC-U18)

2021-22 Team: Sarnia Sting

NHL Draft Status: Round Three, 81st Overall (San Jose Sharks)

Widely regarded as one of Canada’s top young goaltending prospects, Benjamin Gaudreau burst onto the scene with the Sarnia Sting in 2019-20 as a rookie. Although his statistics weren’t sparkling, they were quite impressive given the Sting’s struggles on the ice — Gaudreau earned a save percentage of .890% despite being shelled by high quality scoring chances on a nightly basis. Had he been able to play during the 2020-21 OHL campaign, Gaudreau undoubtedly would have taken a significant step forward in his personal development and have helped the Sting to a fairly successful season in the process.

Despite being held off of the ice this past season with the exception of the U18 World Junior Championship where he was stellar, Gaudreau was still expected to be chosen in the late-first to early-second round of the 2021 NHL Draft. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 180-pounds, Gaudreau’s highly athletic nature and innate abilities in the crease commanded nothing less. However, come the event, Gaudreau was forced to wait until the middle of the third-round before he heard his name called by the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks, who likely stole one of the best goaltending prospects available, were surely shocked to see Gaudreau still available when they stepped up to make their selection.

Braeden Kressler

2020-21 Statistics: Did Not Play

2021-22 Team: Flint Firebirds

NHL Draft Status: Undrafted

Being under-valued is nothing new to Braeden Kressler, as the youngster who oozes elite hockey sense and ability was also over-looked in the first round of the 2019 OHL Priority Selection. Eventually, Kressler was nabbed by the Flint Firebirds in the second-round, 28th overall — a somewhat shocking fall given his refined skill set and innate offensive abilities. Come the 2021 NHL Draft, the case was unfortunately no different for Kressler, as all seven rounds came and went without Kressler hearing his name called.

Kressler, a second-round selection of the Flint Firebirds, recorded 18 points in his rookie OHL campaign. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

However, rather than be disappointed, Kressler will surely use this setback as fuel to improve throughout the coming 2021-22 OHL campaign. After posting 18 points in 46 regular season contests as a rookie, Kressler will take to the ice determined to prove his doubters wrong. Although he has always been somewhat under-sized, Kressler compensates for this perceived deficiency through his incredible work ethic tireless engine. Dogged in his pursuit of the puck, Kressler has shown the ability to play a detailed two-way game — now, the time has come for his relentless hard work to pay off on the scoreboard.

Connor Lockhart

2020-21 Statistics: Did Not Play

2021-22 Team: Erie Otters

NHL Draft Status: Round Six, 178th Overall (Vancouver Canucks)

Despite seeing inconsistent ice time on an Erie Otters team flush with depth at their offensive positions, Connor Lockhart still managed to collect 27 points in his 57 regular season contests in 2019-20 — a level of output commensurate with that of a third-overall selection in the OHL Priority Selection. Laden with high-end offensive skills and terrific skating abilities, Lockhart stood poised to erupt in his sophomore season in the OHL. However, when the 2020-21 season was cancelled, it robbed Lockhart of the ability to showcase his true potential at the next level.

As a result, Lockhart didn’t hear his name called until the sixth-round of the 2021 NHL Draft. While time will tell, at first glance it appears as though the Vancouver Canucks stole a player of first-round caliber at 178th overall. With plenty of room to grow and loads of experience to attain, Lockhart should become a prominent offensive player within the Otters’ lineup this coming season — he’ll no doubt prove those who overlooked him wrong in the process.

Francesco Pinelli

2020-21 Statistics: 13GP: 5G, 11Pts (HDD Jesenice, AlpsHL)

2021-22 Team: Kitchener Rangers

NHL Draft Status: Round Two, 42nd Overall (LA Kings)

As a first-round selection of the Kitchener Rangers in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection and the third-highest scoring rookie in his inaugural campaign, it came as no surprise to see Francesco Pinelli projected by many as a first round talent ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft. A player who can score goals, create plays, provide leadership and play a sound 200-foot game, Pinelli has all the makings of a top-six forward at the next level — a reality which should have made him a highly sought after player in the NHL Draft.

Pinelli’s 41 points as a rookie stood as the third-highest total amongst all freshmen in the 2019-20 OHL campaign. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

However, come Draft Day, Pinelli did not hear his name called. In fact, Pinelli would have to wait until Saturday and the second-round before he discovered where his future in the game lay. Eventually nabbed by the Los Angeles Kings with the 42nd overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft, to say that many were shocked to see Pinelli fall into the second-round would be an understatement. Long viewed as a consensus first-round pick, Pinelli shockingly fell to the Kings in the second-round — a team which now boasts a wealth of high-end OHL talent in Quinton Byfield, Brandt Clarke and Pinelli. Although Pinelli was surely thrilled to be selected in the Draft regardless of the position, the fact remains that his skill-set and potential should have commanded a first-round selection.

Brenden Sirizzotti

2020-21 Statistics: Did Not Play

2021-22 Team: Ottawa 67’s

NHL Draft Status: Undrafted

Despite putting on a clinic for the Pickering Panthers of the OJHL in the 2019-20 season and being ranked as the 143rd best North American skater as a direct result, Brenden Sirizzotti failed to hear his name called during the 2021 NHL Draft. A second-round pick of the Ottawa 67’s in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection, Sirizzotti skated in nine OHL contests as a rookie, but was largely held out of the team’s lineup due to its incredible depth at every position on the ice. As a result, Sirizzotti was able to shred the OJHL instead, amassing 17 goals and 57 points in just 41 games played — a total which led all 2003-born skaters by a wide margin.

Come the 2021-22 OHL campaign, expect Sirizzotti to make a substantial impact with the 67’s. Boasting blazing speed, terrific hands and the ability to execute highly technical plays at a high rate of speed, Sirizzotti should quickly establish himself as a top-six forward and player who should not have been overlooked in the 2021 NHL Draft. There is a reason why Sirizzotti was named as the OMHA’s ETA Player of the Year in 2018-19, after all — he blasted home 32 goals and 93 points in his 36 league games played as a member of the Whitby Wildcats.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s