Battalion addresses blue line, net

NORTH BAY, Ont. – Defence figures to be an area of strength for the North Bay Battalion in the 2017-18 Ontario Hockey League season.

The club’s defencemen all are eligible to return, with Adam Thilander, Cam Dineen, Brady Lyle and Eric Allair each having more than one season of eligibility left. But that didn’t prevent the Battalion from using seven of 16 picks in the OHL Priority Selection on Saturday on back-end help, numbering five defencemen and two goaltenders.

North Bay named its first rearguard in the second round, choosing left shot Simon Rose of the Pembroke Lumber Kings minor midgets. Rose, a resident of Renfrew, Ont., who turned 16 on March 23, scored 10 goals and had 11 assists for 21 points in 39 games. At five-foot 11 and 161 pounds, he also played five games for the junior A Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Central Canada Hockey League.

“I’ve seen him several times, and our Ottawa-area scout really liked him,” said Errol Hook, the Battalion’s director of scouting. “He’s got really good feet and puck awareness. He moves the puck, and I like the fact that he gets the puck and his head is up looking for the best play. He thinks the game well.”

Hook said Rose is the kind of defenceman Stan Butler, director of hockey operations and head coach, was seeking.

“Stan wanted a puck-moving guy and a guy for the power play, and we think he’ll bring a little of that next year and certainly the years after that.”

In the fourth round, the Battalion took hometown resident Payton Vescio, a right shot from the North Bay Trappers midgets. The six-foot 157-pounder produced 26 points, including six goals, in 36 games. He turned 16 on March 20.

“Stan really liked him,” said Hook. “We got a left-shot defenceman in Rose; now we wanted a right shot, and Vescio was the obvious one. Similar to Rose, he’s always looking to make the good play. He’s a puck-mover. That’s what we wanted, and that’s what we got.”

The club selected left shot Nathan Porter of the Whitby Wildcats minor midgets with its second pick in the sixth round. A six-foot-two, 184-pound resident of Whitby, Ont., Porter had three goals and 14 assists for 17 points in 35 games. He turns 16 on Nov. 2.

“He’s a big guy, and we expect him to grow,” noted Hook. “He’s a puck-moving guy and plays with some grit. He has some developing to do in his decision-making, but his upside is good. He’s a big player with decent feet.”

The Battalion invested in defencemen with two of its last three picks, opting for right shot Andrew Lukezic with its first pick in the 14th round and left shot Maxim Mulder in the 15th and final round.

Lukezic, a six-foot-one, 160-pound Mississauga resident who turned 16 on March 9, scored one goal in four OHL Cup games with the Toronto Titans minor midgets. Mulder played 24 games for the Huron Perth Lakers minor midgets, generating four goals and five assists for nine points. A resident of Stratford, Ont., the six-foot-two 186-pounder turned 16 on March 23.

“Lukezic is a big defenceman, and we expect him to get bigger,” said Hook. “He’s a ‘safe’ kind of player that you have on the ice in the last minute when you’re protecting a one-goal lead. He competes hard and does all the things that need to be done. I think in a year’s time he’ll be a player.

“Mulder is a big young man. I’ve seen him and think he has some talent. He’s going to need some time, but he knows that and is working out like crazy.”

The Troops took goaltenders Christian Cicigoi and David Cunti in the sixth and eighth rounds respectively.

Cicigoi, the first of two Battalion choices in the round, played 13 games for the Thunder Bay Kings under-16s with a won-lost mark of 5-6 and a 2.63 goals-against average. The five-foot-11 155-pounder from Thunder Bay, Ont., who turns 16 on July 6, made two appearances at the OHL Cup with a 2.54 GAA.

Hook said Cicigoi came to the Troops’ attention via Adam Dennis, an assistant general manager and coach and the club’s goaltending coach.

“Adam knew him and put us onto him. We saw him play in the (Toronto Marlboros) tournament and we saw him in the OHL Cup, and he had an outstanding first game against (Eastern Ontario Wild) and he really moved up our list. We saw him at the OHL Combine last week, and Adam really liked him. How can you argue with your goalie coach? If he likes him, you move on him, and we did.”

Cunti, a five-foot-11, 220-pound resident of Woodbridge, Ont., made two OHL Cup appearances with the Titans, compiling a 1-1 won-lost record, a 1.89 GAA and a .935 save percentage. He turned 16 on Monday.

“He was always highly rated,” noted Hook. “We probably would have looked at him earlier if Adam hadn’t been so strong on Cicigoi. We were delighted (Cunti) was there for us, and we feel we got two of the top goaltenders this year.”

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