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Red, White, and Blue: Americans among top OHLers readying for 2019 NHL Draft

 

It’s a Star Spangled crop leading the way for the Ontario Hockey League at the 2019 NHL Draft.

When the festivities begin Friday in Vancouver, a trio of American-born players are among the first four OHL skaters expected to be selected.

At the front of the group is Hamilton Bulldogs left-wing Arthur Kaliyev, a native of Uzbekistan who moved to Staten Island, N.Y., as a child, and who ranks seventh among North American skaters per NHL Central Scouting.

This season, Kaliyev dominated play with the Bulldogs, finishing with 51 goals and 102 points as he became just the fifth player in OHL history to reach the 50-goal plateau before his 18th birthday. It’s a short list and one composed of current NHL superstars including John Tavares (London Knights), Steven Stamkos (Sarnia Sting), Jeff Skinner (Kitchener Rangers), and Alex DeBrincat (Erie Otters). That performance earned Kaliyev a spot on the OHL Second All-Star Team.

But that isn’t the only high-water mark Kaliyev has set in the OHL, as his first season saw him net 31 goals to become the first 16-year-old to score at least 30 times since Sting alumnus Alex Galchenyuk did so during the 2010-11 campaign. Kaliyev also brings a winning pedigree, as he was a part of the Bulldogs squad that captured the J. Ross Robertson Cup in 2018, tallying 11 points in 21 games along the way.

“The goal scoring has always been there. He has shown other parts of his game that make you think the sky’s the limit,” summarizes Sportsnet draft expert Sam Cosentino. “(Kaliyev) can score at will, but his playmaking is highly underrated.”

There is always a demand for goal scorers, and given Kaliyev likes to model his game after Winnipeg Jets superstar Patrik Laine, it’s difficult to imagine him lasting long once the 2019 NHL Draft opens.

For those teams looking for offense from the back end, they would be hard pressed to find better than Mississauga Steelheads rearguard Thomas Harley, a dual citizen who hails from Syracuse, N.Y., but competes for Canada internationally.

Like Saint John Sea Dogs graduate Thomas Chabot, after whom he models his game, Harley owns tremendous vision and an ability to create plays from his own end of the ice. That helped the 17-year-old put up 58 points in 68 games with the Steelheads, good for third in team scoring and first among defencemen, an even more impressive feat when you consider Mississauga parted ways with top offensive talents like Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod. A premiere set-up man, only three defenders league-wide had more helpers than Harley.

Across two seasons with the Steelheads, Harley has made tremendous strides, amounting to a 43-point improvement from the 2017-18 campaign when he mustered one goal and 14 assists.

When the 2018-19 season wrapped up, Harley was named to the OHL Third All-Star Team, but it wasn’t his only accolade. Away from the rink, Harley continued to excel, and was recognized with the Bobby Smith Trophy as the OHL Scholastic Player of the Year. The honour came after Harley posted an 88% average across six university-level high school courses. And it’s that sort of dedication that could make the budding blue-liner, who ranks 11th among North American skaters, an intriguing pick for NHL clubs.

“A brilliant skater with good size (6-foot-3, 183 pounds), Harley has risk in his game,” writes Cosentino, “But a lot of that is because of how many minutes he plays and how much Mississauga needs him to produce.”

Rounding out the list is Peterborough Petes left-wing Nicholas Robertson, ranked No. 17 by NHL Central Scouting. Born in California, Robertson grew up in Northville, Mich., where from an early age he learned alongside brother Jason Robertson, a second-round pick of the Dallas Stars and this year’s winner of the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy as the OHL’s leading point producer.

Like his brother, Robertson boasts offensive skill, though the separation may come in his relentless style, as Cosentino notes, “(Robertson) never takes a day off in trying to improve his game in every facet.”

This season saw Robertson lead the Petes in scoring with 55 points, finishing just above a point-per-game pace. Robertson also showed a knack for raising his game on the big stage as he was a top performer at this year’s Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game as well as with Team USA at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he finished with five points in as many games.

A smaller but effective playmaker, Robertson likens his game to Calgary Flames superstar Johnny Gaudreau as well as London Knights graduate Mitch Marner. With those sort of comparables, it’s no doubt why Robertson is slated for an early selection in this year’s NHL draft.

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