In case you hadn’t heard, this past Sunday, I had the opportunity to do color commentary for an OHL game between the Mississauga Steelheads and the Windsor Spitfires as part of World Girls Hockey Weekend. It was my first time ever calling a hockey game in any capacity, and I did talk a little bit about the experience in Monday’s Quick Strikes. Aside from calling the game, I also had a really great vantage point to watch a great junior hockey game between two struggling teams.
Throughout the game, I immediately took notice of about eight or nine players who caught my eye, regardless of whether or not I had scouted them previously. There weren’t many top 2020 draft eligible prospects playing in this particular game, although Windsor did have a couple of them who I’d also watched previously at the 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup.
For the most part, though, I hadn’t watched the majority of these players closely, ever. And there I was standing up in the media gallery being asked my opinions of players whom, for a lot of them, I hadn’t even heard of until the weekend. So that was a tall task in and of itself. However, I came away from the game really impressed with players on both teams (Mississauga won the game 4-3). Four of them have already been drafted (none to the Tampa Bay Lightning, unfortunately), but there are also five undrafted players (four who are draft-eligible in 2020) who I thought also had standout performances on Sunday.
Thomas Harley (MIS)
August 19, 2001 (DAL, 2019)
LD — 6’3”, 192 lbs
Harley was ranked 16th on my final 2019 Draft Rankings, where I compared his game to Carolina’s Jake Gardiner. He ended up going 18th overall to Dallas in June, and he had a really impressive training camp. Harley rejoined the Steelheads a bit late, as Sunday was only his fourth game of the season. I got to see his smooth skating and confident puckhandling firsthand, and I was not disappointed. He had a beautiful unassisted goal where he rushed up the ice and fired a shot past Spitfires goalie Kari Piiroinen and was also a mainstay on the Steelheads powerplay (in fact, on one occasion, Harley was out for the full two minutes on the man-advantage). The Steelheads were guilty of several defensive lapses (including allowing a 3 on 0 to develop after they turned the puck over at their own blueline), and Harley was caught puck-watching a couple of times in his own end, and that’s where I really began to see truths to the Gardiner comparisons (mostly by fellow Raw Charge writer Hardev). But overall, I felt as though Harley was one of the more dominant players on the ice, and it was evident that his confidence was still sky-high since returning from the Stars’ training camp.
Curtis Douglas (WIN)
March 6, 2000 (DAL, 2018)
C — 6’9”, 252 lbs
So, I actually walked past Douglas in the bowels of the arena as the Spitfires were heading to their dressing room. First, I noticed that he had to duck slightly to fit under the door frame. Second, I nearly dislocated my neck trying to look all the way up at him (he’s a foot and ten inches taller than me). We mentioned several times on the broadcast about how large of a presence Douglas had on the ice, because he towered over nearly every player on both teams. With a player who is the same size as Zdeno Chara, you would probably expect him to be slower, and constantly throwing his body around. Douglas was an imposing net-front presence (how Mississauga’s Kai Edmonds managed to see any shots from behind him, I’ll never know) and also contributed several good rebound chances. However, I was actually blown away by how smooth and fluid his skating was, and how agile he looked skating up and down the ice. He was instrumental in puck rushes and he didn’t look slow at all.
Cole Schwindt (MIS)
April 25, 2001 (FLA, 2019)
RW — 6’2”, 183 lbs
When we spoke to Steelheads coach James Richmond for a pregame interview, he said that Schwindt’s play had been one of the main reasons that the team’s second line was playing so well. In fact, in order to get his top line going, Richmond shuffled his top two lines and gave Schwindt that opportunity on the top line with James Hardie and Richard Whittaker. I said on the broadcast that Schwindt seemed to be “the straw that stirs the drink” on whatever line he was on, and it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that after the Steelheads got Schwindt back in the lineup from injury, they started winning games. He had a goal and an assist on Sunday, but I was more impressed with his awareness in his own end and his ability to recognize and take advantage of weaknesses in the Spitfires’ defensive coverage.
Nicholas Canade (MIS)
March 7, 2000 (Undrafted)
LW — 5’9”, 161 lbs
I thought Canade was the best player on the ice. He didn’t contribute at all on the scoresheet, but the speedy, undersized winger was flying on every shift. He was unafraid to play physically (despite there being a full foot difference in height between him and Douglas) and was a force on the forecheck, always willing to enter puck battles. Canade also led puck rushes and had a couple of good scoring chances for the Steelheads throughout the game. Although Canade has been passed over in the last two NHL drafts, he is still eligible for 2020 and a standout season could mean that the third draft’s the charm.
James Hardie (MIS)
January 18, 2002 (2020 draft eligible)
LW — 5’11”, 161 lbs
The first star of Sunday’s game isn’t a top-ranked prospect for June, but Hardie is a strong skater with a dangerous shot and soft hands. Hardie showed off his offensive abilities by scoring two critical goals for the Steelheads, including the game-winner. He was always engaged in the play, whether it was being involved in puck battles in the offensive zone or joining his linemates in the rush. Because of Steelheads coach Richmond jumbling the lines, Hardie started the second period on a new-look top line with Schwindt and Richard Whittaker, and they really took off, looking dangerous every time they returned to the ice.
Will Cuylle (WIN)
February 5, 2002 (2020 draft eligible)
LW — 6’3”, 202 lbs
After seeing how dominant Cuylle was at the Hlinka-Gretzky back in August, my hopes were high for his play on Sunday. I was excited to watch him play in person. I was hoping to see his elite release (especially on the powerplay), and I was a little disappointed. But only in that regard! Cuylle was still the same, reliable presence in his own end, and used his hulking, powerful stride to rush pucks up the ice and put pressure on Steelheads defenders. He didn’t really get too many looks on the powerplay (and Windsor did play the night before, fatigue could have been a factor), but he did get a couple of scoring chances off of picking up rebounds in tight. Cuylle was recently rated an ‘A’ prospect by NHL Central Scouting for the 2020 draft, and barring a long-term injury or significant offensive struggles, he should be a solid mid-first round pick.
Jean-Luc Foudy (WIN)
May 13, 2002 (2020 draft eligible)
C — 6’0”, 176 lbs
Good lord, Foudy’s skating and puckhandling abilities are flat-out ridiculous. I’ve never seen a player go for a more relaxed and carefree skate in all areas of the ice while dangling around opponents with the puck on his stick. When he needs to, he can really turn on the jets and leave defenders in the dust. I’m pretty sure I praised Foudy’s play at least five times on the broadcast because half the time I was just in awe of his talent. He has such smooth edges that he can change direction effortlessly in no time at all, and he also loves to circle around in both the offensive and defensive zones in order to wait for better options to present themselves to him. I would say that at times he could be too patient and complacent, but it was just so much fun watching him skate circles around players on the ice. It wasn’t really hurting his team, either, because whenever Foudy did decide to let go of the puck, it was usually followed up by a pretty good scoring chance. Foudy also received an ‘A’ rating by NHL Central Scouting.
Player information from the Ontario Hockey League.