2020 NHL Draft Profiles: OHL Forwards
With the added time, we’re turning into area scouts. Here’s a look at some standout forwards in the OHL.
The OHL has long been one of the NHL’s premiere sources of talent, and this year is no different. The amount of high-end talent could see them occupy as many as five of the top ten picks this year, most of which we’ve profiled including Quinton Byfield, Marco Rossi, Cole Perfetti and Jamie Drysdale.
We’re changing things up for draft coverage this year — this post will look specifically at some of our favourite OHL forwards who are outside of being considered locks for the first round. Subsequent posts from now until the draft will look at specific leagues and regions, from the U.S. National Development Program to the Russian junior ranks. It should hopefully make for some interesting and more intuitive comparisons, while giving us a good idea of who we could be hoping for in rounds two through seven.
Below you’ll find profiles of four of our personal favourites from the Ontario Hockey League, with some honourable mentions at the bottom. Let’s start with a sharpshooter:
Tyson Foerster (C)
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Barrie Colts||OHL||6'1"||194 lbs||23 - 44||#21 (NA)|
If you’ve been following our draft coverage for the last few years, you’ve probably come to recognize a few tropes of the players we choose for these profiles — there’s the short guy who survives on skill, the player with pure energy... Tyson Foerster is the guy with skating issues, but he scores a lot.
When I say a lot I mean it. Foerster came out of the blue this year for the Barrie Colts with his breakout season of 80 points in 62 games, three-and-a-half times greater than his rookie season in 2018-19. He accomplished this while leading Barrie in scoring by a whole 33 points, with some immediate P/GP comparables similar to former top picks Sean Monahan, Alex Nylander and Logan Brown in their draft years.
As always there are contextual factors to take into account — Foerster scored more goals on the power play than at even strength this season, plus Barrie plays in a weak division. He also spent a good chunk of time next to Hurricanes prospect Ryan Suzuki before he was dealt, although Foerster saw zero dip in production afterwards, which is a good sign to his play-driving ability. I’ve mentioned Mitch Brown’s tracking data plenty in our draft coverage, where Foerster grades well in expected goals (67th percentile), and surprisingly high in expected primary assists (96th percentile). For a player who typically falls into the ‘volume shooter’ category, his offensive game is very well-rounded.
Those are really the biggest selling point with Foerster’s game, his fantastic offensive instincts mixed with a high-power shot that he uses deceptively. He’s especially great from the “Ovechkin spot”. But as previously mentioned, his skating is a big issue, significantly bigger than for any player we’ve covered so far this year. It’s unanimous in his scouting reports that his skating mechanics are very awkward in almost every facet — his acceleration, end-to-end speed, even his overall pace of play — save maybe for his edge-work. He’s a lanky player whose upright posture has been ineffective in helping him generate power, although part of this could potentially be due to adjusting to his growth spurt this past season, going from 5’9” to 6’1”.
The skating issues have hampered Foerster’s ability to be effective in zone transitions and the defensive end, but when it comes to the forecheck or power play he’s shown the ability to be magical. It’s created some division on whether Foerster even deserves first round consideration, although a team patient and diligent enough to work with him could see this draft pick pay off in spades. They’d be getting one of the best shots in the draft class and an immediate power play threat, which mixed with his rounded offensively-minded game has turned me into a fan of Foerster.
Luke Evangelista (RW)
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|London Knights||OHL||5'11"||165 lbs||34 - 90||#39 (NA)|
It seems like every year, London has a couple of forwards who are intriguing options as a high pick. That’s how it was when the Senators drafted Alex Formenton in the second round in 2017, and Luke Evangelista is a similarly-sized player who might go in that range.
The February-born Evangelista was London’s first-round pick in the 2018 OHL Draft after leading his local U16 minor league in scoring, but struggled to adapt to the Knights in his first year. His two-assist, 27 game season looked extremely poor in comparison to fellow draft-eligible forward Antonio Stranges (34 points in 66 games). This year, though, Evangelista took the training wheels off and stepped into a top-line role, playing alongside drafted players like Sens prospect Jonathan Gruden, Capitals first-rounder Connor McMichael, or Columbus’ first-rounder Liam Foudy. His 61 points in 62 games ranked fifth on the Knights, and placed him 10th in the OHL among draft eligible players in points-per-game.
What a shift for Luke Evangelista. pic.twitter.com/VOVtBKH06c— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) January 24, 2020
What stands out about Evangelista is his versatility. It’s easy for someone to look at his linemates and think that he was carried, but Mark Hunter has a long history — including with the aforementioned Formenton — of giving draft-eligible players second- or third-line roles as opposed to that prime spot on the first line. When watching video, I was pleasantly surprised at just how involved Evangelista was in the play, and how smart he was with many of the small decisions he was making in all three zones. He was a top-end penalty killer because of his smarts defensively, which often turned into positive offensive contributions at the other end of the rink.
Statistically, only four of his 61 points didn’t come at even-strength, and his 0.597 primary points-per-game rate was better than all but 10 draft-eligible OHLers — all of whom are ranked in the first- or early-second round. Players with this statistical profile often go on to play NHL games. The micro-stats tracking also showed well, noting his involvement in all three zones, his contributions on exits and entries, and his passing ability.
If you’re looking for a player who, with his limited strength at the moment, is still able to hound the puck on dump-ins, establish possession, and cut to the net to open up lanes — Evangelista can do it consistently. I also like that even though he doesn’t have the strength right now, he has consistently been willing to still drive to dangerous areas of the ice. As he gets stronger, I fully expect he’ll develop into a go-to offensive option for the Knights and his creativity with the puck will shine. He has a cerebral quality that allows him to slow the game down and assess options, and I imagine that will serve him well next season when he gets powerplay minutes.
Martin Chromiak (LW)
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Kingston Frontenacs||OHL||6'0"||181 lbs||32 - 78||#30 (NA)|
We’re including Martin Chromiak in our post for OHLers despite the fact that he played more than half the season in his home country of Slovakia. Similar to Jan Mysak, Chromiak was receiving limited minutes playing for HK Dukla Trencin in the Slovakian pro league, so he decided mid-season to jump ship and join the Kingston Frontenacs. Normally it takes European prospects a bit of time to adjust to North American ice, but for Chromiak it was immediate, scoring 33 points in 28 games alongside the mega-talented 16-year-old Shane Wright (top prospect for the 2022 draft) and Zayde Wisdom (who you’ll see in the honourable mentions below).
The jump to the OHL no doubt helped raise Chromiak’s draft stock — he had a fantastic showing at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup earlier in the year but was surprisingly left off the Slovakian roster at the U20 World Juniors. Playing alongside Wright certainly helped him too as there was no doubt he was that line’s beneficiary. But Chromiak possesses a lot of interesting raw tools that could set him up as an effective top-nine player.
As a skater, Chromiak has the power and technical ability to have pull-away speed and decent versatility in all three zones. He combines that with a high level of confidence with the puck to make plays at high speeds, whether it be burning defenders with a deke or scoring on a quick wrist shot. He’s extremely versatile in the ways he creates offence, and although he can be inconsistent with how often he showcases his speed and and quick pace, his ability to work with his linemates and create through them is what ultimately found him success in the OHL.
Chromiak tends to fit the “jack of all trades, master of none” category, which has kept him down in some rankings with the chance that it caps his ceiling. He doesn’t project as a player who will drive his own line at the next level either, but would instead serve an effective complimentary piece who can more than handle the duties of playing next to someone like Shane freaking Wright.
But I also see a player who is still a work in progress for fitting things together — his skating power and playmaking abilities are still very raw, but the potential is there as a legitimate dual-threat player. He’ll likely be a second or third round pick, and whoever drafts him will have the joy of seeing him decimate the OHL next year on one of junior hockey’s most exciting lines.
Tyler Tullio (C)
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Oshawa Generals||OHL||5'9"||161 lbs||39 - 84||#52 (NA)|
A high-energy, smart player with a nonstop motor? Count me in.
While Tyler Tullio doesn’t necessarily have the size that other players do, he comes from the Jean-Gabriel Pageau school of playing ‘bigger’, and that’s a quality that’s always welcomed for a skilled player expected to be taken in the second- or third-round in this year’s draft.
An 11th overall pick in the 2018 OHL Draft, Tullio mixes both flash with physicality in an appealing, in-your-face style that served him well on the wing with Nashville first-rounder, Philip Tomasino this year. Like Evangelista, it’s easy to think that Tomasino was the one driving the line, but when I watched Tullio in my local Oshawa rink this year, I was struck by how many touches of the puck went through Tullio, and saw him display a sense of confidence and decisiveness with the puck that always stood out. Here’s a nice tweet thread of Tullio’s best attributes.
He possesses a great first few steps that allow him to stay engaged when battling for the puck along the wall and in attacking defenders in open ice. He’s not the type to give the puck away meaninglessly — there were many times where he would sneak into soft areas of the ice and then set his linemates up for a high-danger scoring chance. He lived around the net, and many of his 27 goals this season came from utilizing his quick hands in tight. His 3.4 shots-per-game this season is respectable, and up there with Jack Quinn, Tyson Foerster, and the big three OHL forwards. Moreover, his even-strength production this season (0.694 EV P1/GP) ranked ahead of all draft-eligible forwards not named Rossi, Byfield, Perfetti, and Quinn — and he remains in good company when you expand that list to include the entire CHL.
Next season will be big for Tullio, as the main detraction he has against his game other than his size is potential over-reliance on Tomasino and overager Brett Neumann to drive play. I’m not worried about either issue because Tullio was faced with the same challenge coming in from the U16 GTHL to the OHL last season, and passed with flying colours — putting up at 0.70 points-per-game rate without either of this year’s linemates. In fact, I look at Tullio’s high hockey sense and consistent high-end production, and see a player who’s a relatively safer bet to translate his game to the NHL in some way, it just remains to be seen if it’s a top-six or top-nine role.
|Player||Pos||Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Jean-Luc Foudy||C||Windsor Spitfires||OHL||5'11"||168 lbs||36 - 80||#33 (NA)|
|Antonio Stranges||C/LW||London Knights||OHL||5'10"||170 lbs||52 - 94||#56 (NA)|
|Zayde Wisdom||C||Kingston Frontenacs||OHL||5'10"||201 lbs||55 - 103||#54 (NA)|
|Brandon Coe||RW||North Bay Battalion||OHL||6'3"||185 lbs||71 - 108||#35 (NA)|
|Ethan Cardwell||C||Barrie Colts||OHL||5'10"||157 lbs||79 - 140||#70 (NA)|
|Reid Valade||RW||Kitchener Rangers||OHL||5'10"||168 lbs||108 - 185||#148 (NA)|
The crop of draft-eligible talent coming from the OHL is the strongest the league has seen in years, and while we can’t cover every player in depth, these are six honourable mentions who we’re still keep our eyes on. We’ll also be covering a handful of additional players in this shorter format for subsequent league-specific posts.
- One of the most divisive players in this draft has been Jean-Luc Foudy, brother of Blue Jackets prospect Liam Foudy. He’s legitimately in contention as the best skater in the entire draft class, and I really mean that, but it hasn’t translated to the scoresheet quite yet. He’s a machine when it comes to zone transitions, and all microtracking I’ve seen paints him as a phenomenal playmaker. But there are other elements that turn scouts away, particularly the fact that he tends to stray to the perimeter, and he’s fairly restricted in his finishing ability. But speed is extremely important, as is playmaking, which will make him a really interesting player to watch going forward. You can watch Will Scouch’s fantastic breakdown of Foudy here.
- Another super divisive prospect is Antonio Stranges, who in my eyes stands above every other prospect in this draft in the uniqueness category. His 10-2 skating stride is, for lack of a better term, interesting. Like Foudy, he excels massively in a couple areas, and for Stranges it’s his soft hands and phenomenal stickhandling ability which constantly lands him on the highlight reel (watching his backhand is also like candy). If you’re like me and a fan of chaos, then Stranges is the player you want. But that chaos also leads to questionable plays and turnovers o’ plenty — I imagine he’s on the Do Not Draft list of more than one NHL team. It didn’t translate to the scoresheet either which made him a big faller this year, but Stranges is the poster boy for the ‘project pick’ who will need plenty of time and maybe some London Knights magic to make things work out.
- Playing on an aforementioned line with Shane Wright and Martin Chromiak, I am not going to be caught counting out Zayde Wisdom from becoming a regular NHL player. Coming from a poorer family than most who are able to play hockey, with sacrifices consistently made by his Black and Indigenous household, Wisdom has shown a resilience off-the-ice that has translated into a high-energy style of play on the ice. He actively opens up space for his talented linemates in the offensive zone, is a bull on the forecheck, and drives the middle of the ice with consistency. I don’t think there are going to be many players with his skillset, potential, and production available past the second-round, and with a hole on the right-side in Ottawa’s system, Wisdom might be a perfect fit as a complementary player.
- Brandon Coe is a player I could see going higher than his expected range indicates — he’s a 6’3” player who skates well for his size, and scored at nearly a point-per-game clip on a weak North Bay roster. It’s hard to get more enticing than that for GMs. He has a nice well-rounded offensive game with great awareness of the offensive zone, particularly when it comes to the playmaking side, and if he can show it with a greater degree of consistency it could take him a long ways. Add in some half-decent linemates next season and he has real breakout potential.
- Buoyed by a trade from Saginaw to Barrie mid-season, Ethan Cardwell managed to be a point-per-game player with the Colts despite not playing much with the Foerster-Vierling top unit. A theme with most of the players we’ve profiled today is their hockey sense, and Cardwell has it in spaces. He shows great three-zone anticipation — utilizing his stick to intercept puck in the neutral and defensive zones, and reading play for himself and his teammates in the offensive zone. As one of the younger players in the draft, taking Cardwell in the mid-rounds is a bet on his sense and potential to grow his puck sills with increased physical maturity. It’s hard to do what he did as an under-sized player in his first full OHL year, and at his worst, he’s a quality two-way winger who can play all-situations. I think he’s worth the bet.
- A powerful skater who’s always noticeable on the ice, Reid Valade always has his motor going for the Kitchener Rangers, and has played both scoring line and shutdown roles this season. Projected as a mid-round pick, Valade’s production at even-strength this year (0.596 EV P1/GP) was just behind Luke Evangelista’s, and ranked 11th among draft-eligible forwards. The fact that he’s an adept penalty killer and has the sense to shutdown top lines is a bonus. Brock Otten from OHLProspects noted that Valade’s wrist-shot is high-end, so I expect him to grow on his 18-goals this season. If he’s able to bulk up so he can effectively play his abrasive style of play and create more through the neutral zone with the puck on his stick, I can see Valade being a really nice top-nine piece for a contending team. /
First Round Forwards
First Round Defencemen
Thank you to Pick224 for many of the invaluable statistics cited in this article.