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Flyers bolster the ranks

NORTH BAY, Ont. – Three members of Ontario’s best minor midget team highlighted 16 choices the North Bay Battalion made Saturday in the Ontario Hockey League’s Priority Selection.

North Bay’s first three picks were from the Don Mills Flyers, who lost none of 33 regular-season games in regulation time and went unbeaten in seven games in the OHL Cup, clipping the Toronto Red Wings 6-5 in overtime in the final.

Centre Liam Arnsby was the Battalion’s first-round selection, ninth overall. Defenceman Paul Christopoulos was the second-round choice, while his twin, right winger Alex, was the first of two picks in the third.

The Battalion wasn’t alone in valuing Don Mills products, as the Flyers led the Greater Toronto Hockey League and all others with 14 players taken, including three of the top four.

Arnsby, a five-foot-10, 166-pound resident of Ajax, Ont., who turns 16 on Nov. 20, scored 21 goals and earned 49 assists for 70 points in 49 games. He had six points, including one goal, in the OHL Cup. In the Canada Winter Games at Red Deer, he registered two goals and seven assists for nine points in six games as Quebec edged Ontario 4-3 in overtime in the gold-medal game.

“When we did our player meetings I asked him, ‘What would you do if somebody called you small?’” Adam Dennis, the Battalion’s assistant general manager of hockey operations, said of Arnsby.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Nobody has ever said I’m small.’ He plays like he’s six-foot-two.

“He has all sorts of skill. He’s very responsible in his own end; he plays 200 feet. He can play any position up front. He’s a very versatile guy and the type of person we want. He can step in right away. He’s a guy that can do a lot of things for you.

“He’s a 70-percent faceoff guy. He played on the top line at the Canada Winter Games and was a driving force for them. He’s a gamer. He’s played in two of the biggest games for the minor midget age group: the final of the Canada Winter Games and the final of the OHL Cup. He elevates every time the big game comes.

“He’s going to be a leader with our group. He’s all business and he’s the type of player we need. He’s a very, very hard player to play against.”

Paul Christopoulos, five-foot-10 and 181 pounds, scored 22 goals and added 45 assists for 67 points in as many games. Alex, five-foot-10, 190 pounds, recorded 49 goals and 44 assists for 93 points in 73 games. The brothers, residents of Richmond Hill, Ont., turned 16 on March 26.

“One thing we realized in the playoffs is we need to get a lot harder to play against,” said Dennis, after the Niagara IceDogs ousted the Troops in the first round.

“I know a lot of people will look at their height, but these twins are thick kids. They compete. I wouldn’t want to go in a corner with any of our first three picks. They can score, they can skate and they can defend. We’re really excited to get them, and our hardest decision was which one to take first.”

The Battalion’s other third-round pick was left winger Justin Ertel of the Toronto Red Wings minor midgets. Ertel, a six-foot-one 186-pounder from Mississauga who turns 16 on May 27, had 61 points, including 27 goals, in 70 games and added three goals and three assists for six points in seven games in the OHL Cup.

Ertel’s father, Tyler, was a centre who played five OHL seasons culminating in 1991-92, including two with the North Bay Centennials, with whom he had 54 goals and 79 assists for 133 points in 119 games.

“He’s a 200-foot player,” Dennis said of the younger Ertel, whose grandfather Bob was general manager of the Centennials. “Our first four picks aren’t one-dimensional players. There isn’t a power-play guy; there isn’t a defensive specialist. They’re guys that can do everything and play in all situations, and Justin is that type of player.”

Paul Christopoulos was one of five defencemen chosen. Ty Hollett was a fourth-round pick from the Navan Grads midgets, while Erik MacNiel was taken in the seventh round from the Quinte Red Devils minor midgets, Cameron Gauvreau in the 10th from the Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs minor midgets and Aidan Shepard in the 11th from the Toronto Marlboros minor midgets.

“We had an organizational need for defence,” noted Dennis. “We’re pretty weak there. It’s a position we definitely needed to solidify, so what we got with all those guys were some big puck movers who have a physical side to their game. There’s a lot of skill back there.”

Among the more intriguing choices was right winger Clint Levens, one of three fifth-round picks. Levens, a six-foot 165-pound resident of Ellenton, Fla., scored 14 goals and added 13 assists for 27 points with 117 penalty minutes in 20 games for the Florida Alliance under-16s.

“He’s a kid we got some good information on and a kid who’s excited about being drafted by North Bay,” said Dennis. “He’s a guy we’ll see at our orientation camp, and we’ll go from there.”

The Battalion chose centre Bill Gourgon of the Carleton Place Canadians midgets in the 12th round, right wingers Kevin Perrott of the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies 15s and Will Donato of The Hill School in Pottsville, Pa., in the 13th and 14th rounds respectively, and goaltender Owen Wray from the North Bay Trappers minor midgets in the 15th.

“They’re guys who may need to do one or two things more than some of the guys who were picked, but there’s potential for these guys to play in the OHL,” said Dennis, who speaks from experience.

Chosen in the 14th round by the Guelph Storm in 2001, goaltender Dennis played 160 games over four seasons, winning OHL titles with Guelph and the London Knights and a Memorial Cup with London in 2005. The Storm’s last pick in 2001 was right winger Ryan Callahan, who played 249 OHL games and has skated in 757 National Hockey League games with the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Dennis is familiar with Wray, whose father, Scott, is a Battalion assistant coach. Wray was the only goaltender chosen by the Battalion.

“Owen is a guy I’ve had on the ice. His upside is really big. He works his butt off and is a real focused kid. We’re really happy to get him. He probably got more shots than any goalie in minor hockey this year. He did well with it and got stronger over the year.”

A total of 302 players, numbering 174 forwards, 105 defencemen and 23 goaltenders, were selected via the Internet in the 15-round process from 94 teams in Ontario and parts of the United States. While 297 players chosen were born in 2003, also eligible were non-overage players not carded with an Ontario-based midget AAA team from protected OHL territories. Four 2002-born players were chosen, while centre Shane Wright, who was granted exceptional status by the Ontario Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada, was the lone pick born in 2004.

The Kingston Frontenacs chose Wright first overall from Don Mills, and teammate Brennan Othmann, a left winger, went second to the Flint Firebirds. The Erie Otters selected centre Connor Lockhart of the Kanata Lasers midgets third before the Barrie Colts took Don Mills defenceman Brandt Clarke fourth. Arnsby was the fourth and last first-rounder from the Flyers.

The 20 OHL clubs selected in inverse order of the overall standings for 2018-19. The league made a ceremonial selection of Don Mills goaltender Roy Pejcinovski with the 74th overall choice. He, his mother and a sister were killed in an alleged domestic assault in March, 2018. Pejcinovski’s sweater number was 74.

The OHL Under-18 Priority Selection, for which Ontario-based midget-aged players are eligible, is to be conducted by telephone Wednesday night. The process consists of two rounds, but clubs can gain a third pick if a goaltender is one of its first two choices. The third choice must be a skater.

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