OHL Stock Watch: Brandt Clarke playing best hockey of his career as games matter most
The OHL regular season has come to end, and now the real battle begins as 16 teams vie for a league championship and Memorial Cup berth.
Here’s a look at players who ended their regular seasons on a high note.
Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts (Los Angeles Kings)
Nobody in the OHL had a better March than Brandt Clarke.
The Los Angeles Kings prospect recorded 11 goals and 22 points in nine games to finish off the regular season, including registering his first and second career OHL hat tricks, and then wrapped up the month with a six-primary point outing (including a lacrosse goal) in Game 1 of Barrie's series against the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Clarke was the OHL’s Defenceman of the Month for the third straight month and was also awarded Player of the Month honours. He tied a single-season franchise record with 23 goals from the blue line, in just 31 games. His 1.97 points-per-game margin was the best production rate in the league during the regular season.
Clarke did get a nine-game stint in the NHL and a five-game conditioning stint in the AHL this season before being returned to junior hockey. But depending on how far Barrie goes in the playoffs, there’s a chance Clarke could return to the NHL after his OHL season ends.
Joey Willis, LW/C, Saginaw Spirit (2023 NHL Draft)
Success on the scoresheet has been hard to come by for Joey Willis for much of his draft year. After recording five goals and 10 points in his first six games of the season, his offensive output has become much less consistent in the time since.
That is, right up until March rolled around. Willis picked up 14 points in his final 11 games of the regular season, finishing his draft year with a respectable 0.65 points-per-game pace (matching teammate Hunter Haight’s draft year production).
Willis shines defensively, which is partially why his offensive creation was a bit hit or miss for large stretches of the season. He’s more focused on ensuring that his teammates are supported defensively, through scanning, reads, backchecks, and retrievals. Rarely does he exit his own end until he’s sure his teammates have controlled possession on breakouts.
Offensively, Willis flashes advanced playmaking ideas and has the ability to execute when he so chooses. He times arrivals to space and delays in the offensive zone at the right moments and has the ability to link plays with his teammates.
In spite of the inconsistent production, we (well, mostly yours truly) have believed in Willis’ talents and play enough to rank him in the second round throughout the season, significantly higher than any other public outlet (most don’t have him ranked at all). Hopefully, his encouraging end to the regular season and a strong playoff performance will help Willis solidify his draft stock and impress NHL scouts enough to be selected this summer.
Ethan Miedema, LW, Kingston Frontenacs (2023 NHL Draft)
Last month, Ethan Miedema's stock was falling.
Then he scored six goals in his final three games of the regular season (including a four-goal game) to reach 20 goals and break the 50-point mark this season, proving that there is more offence to his game than he’s shown with Kingston for most of the campaign.
The Frontenacs did not make the playoffs, which means that unfortunately, Miedema’s draft season is over, at least in the OHL. There is a good chance we see him represent Canada at the U18 Worlds, which would give him one last opportunity to prove himself to NHL scouts.
Whether that late-season burst of production results in a higher draft selection or not, it was good to see Miedema end his OHL season on a high note. Hopefully, it was enough.
Honourable Mentions: Ty Voit (Toronto Maple Leafs), Matthew Maggio (New York Islanders), Quentin Musty (2023 NHL Draft), Amadeus Lombardi (Detroit Red Wings)
Ty Nelson, D, North Bay Battalion (Seattle Kraken)
Ty Nelson could have easily been a Stock Rising candidate.
After all, the Seattle Kraken draft pick was over a point-per-game defender this season and scored 24 goals, finishing third in league scoring among all blueliners.
He broke the Battalion’s single-season points record by a defenceman and finished the campaign with 52 more points than the next Battalion defender, which is an absurd level of output from the blue line.
His playmaking abilities still leave something to be desired, but Nelson didn’t struggle nearly as much carrying the puck out of his own end this season. Most of his offence still comes as the result of bombs from the point, whether through one-timers or slapshots with a full wind-up.
Nelson’s path to the NHL continues to look more projectable, as his defensive play remains a consistent strength, thanks to a tight gap, ability to kill plays off the rush, and knack for winning battles against much taller opponents.
Hopefully, his production continues throughout the postseason, as North Bay appears to be in for a deep playoff run. Regardless, the Kraken have to be happy with the steps Nelson has taken this season.
Pano Fimis, C, Erie Otters (2023 NHL Draft re-entry)
A mediocre draft-eligible season mired by injury meant that Pano Fimis went undrafted in his first year of eligibility.
But there was hope that the former OHL second-overall pick would rebound, increase his production, and prove he could be a worthwhile bet as a re-entry selection this summer.
Unfortunately, Fimis wasn’t able to find another level of production. However, it’s worth noting that he wasn’t in the best situation to have offensive success.
Fimis was dealt from the basement-dwelling Niagara IceDogs to the struggling Erie Otters. Both teams finished at the bottom of each conference, and Fimis only recorded two more goals and three more points than last season.
At times, Fimis flashes crafty offensive tendencies. His puckhandling abilities allow him to weave through defenders in the offensive zone to create scoring chances, and he demonstrated more of a willingness to use his teammates on breakouts and on the rush through give-and-goes. However, he still struggles to link plays together consistently, and that was certainly reflected in his numbers this season.
With Fimis’ season over, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be picked as a re-entry this summer. That’s unfortunate, because a player with his combination of elite puck skills and physicality is rare. But it doesn’t feel as if he’s done enough this season to prove he’s worth betting on.