You can never have enough goaltending.
Fourteen of 20 OHL member teams selected a goaltender in Wednesday’s 2019 OHL Under-18 Priority Selection, with masked men accounting for five of the opening seven picks led by first overall choice Aidan Spooner of the Barrie Jr. Colts to the Kingston Frontenacs.
James Gray of the Telus Cup-bound Toronto Nationals (2nd Overall, Flint), Matteo Lalama of the Niagara North Stars (4th Overall, Barrie), Curtis Boothe of the Markham Majors (6th Overall, Sarnia) and Zachary Dietz of the Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs (7th Overall, Hamilton) rounded out the top goaltenders selected.
“I knew Kingston had some interest but I wasn’t sure if I was going to go first overall,” said Spooner following the announcement. “I was pretty nervous going in but I’m proud to be a part of such a great organization.”
Spooner was an OMHA champion with the York-Simcoe Express Minor Midgets last season, backstopping a team that included first and second overall OHL Priority Selection picks Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves) and Evan Vierling (Flint Firebirds) to an OHL Cup appearance.
Now Spooner is excited to join forces with fellow first overall pick Shane Wright in a quest to take the Frontenacs to their first-ever championship.
“I can’t wait to meet Shane, he seems like a good guy and a great hockey player,” Spooner added. “It’s an exciting time to join the organization with so many good young players going there.”
Toronto Nationals netminder James Gray followed Spooner at second overall, hearing his name called by the Flint Firebirds on the heels of a tremendous showing at the Central Region Midget AAA Championship in Clarington. The Nationals won it all, advancing to the Telus Cup Midget AAA National Championship for the second straight year.
“That tournament was what we built towards all season and it feels so good to accomplish our goal,” said Gray, who was named MVP in a 4-0 Championship Final shutout of the North Bay Trappers. “Winning that tournament along with being drafted by Flint are the best hockey moments I’ve had in my entire career.”
Gray has set his sights on playing in the OHL next season, and has drawn inspiration from a pair of up-and-coming NHL netminders to fuel his pursuit.
“Just watching Carter Hart and Jordan Binnington this season and the way they’ve elevated their game has been a lot of fun, it gets you excited,” said Gray. “It’s a big jump to the OHL but I want to prove what I can do. There are a lot of people out there to prove wrong and with the opportunity that I have here I want to push my game to the next level.”
Goalies were all the buzz early, but a few skaters snuck in there as well.
The Erie Otters selected defenceman Connor Olson of the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs at third overall. He earned tournament MVP honours in Clarington last week and put up 30 points (8-22—30) over 35 games this past season.
“I wish the tournament could have ended better,” said Olson, whose Chiefs lost in the bronze medal game, “but it was a good season for us and I’m really happy with being drafted by Erie.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the facility and meeting the coaching staff there. The Otters have had a lot of recent success and I want to be a part of more in the future.”
The 6-foot-1, 170Ib blueliner models his game after Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Ryan McDonagh, citing his dependability as something he finds admirable.
“It was obviously disappointing not to be drafted last year,” said Olson, who spent the 2017-18 season with the London Jr. Knights. “It motivated me to work harder over the summer though and that paid off with getting drafted tonight.”
A total of 54 players from 35 different teams were selected on Wednesday. For a full recap of the third annual Under-18 Priority Selection, click here.