Troops replenish forward ranks

NORTH BAY, Ont. – Missing the Ontario Hockey League playoffs for the first time since 2002 didn’t change the way the North Bay Battalion approached the 2017 OHL Priority Selection.

“You pick where you’re going to pick,” Errol Hook, director of scouting, said Saturday as the Battalion made 16 selections over the 15-round event, starting with the third overall choice. Hook, with the club since 2004, oversaw 10 regional scouts working under Stan Butler, director of hockey operations and head coach.

“We were disappointed we missed the playoffs but, if you look at our injuries and put everything into perspective, we weren’t too far off. We missed the playoffs by two points. We aren’t rebuilding; we’re just retooling. Some of the kids will need to step it up, but that’s just the maturation of a player. We’re hoping guys step it up to get us in the playoffs and let last year’s picks and this year’s picks develop and get us where we want to go.”

The Battalion chose nine forwards, comprising three centres, four left wingers and two right wingers. The club also tabbed five defencemen and two goaltenders in the process conducted over the Internet from the North Bay war room at Memorial Gardens.

The Troops took right winger Brandon Coe of the Toronto Nationals minor midgets with the third selection. Coe, six-foot-three and 166 pounds, scored 17 goals and added 16 assists for 33 points in 31 games. The resident of Ajax, Ont., turns 16 on Dec. 1.

“He’s big, he’s strong and he’s arguably the best over-six-foot skater in the draft,” said Hook. “We watched him a lot, as he was playing on a high-profile team. Picking at No. 3 we needed to get the best player, and we feel he has all the parts required to be a very good player in the OHL.

“He has an edge to his game and has taken a lot of penalties just for being a big guy and knocking people down. He’s a December birth date, and there’s no doubt he had to be the guy we wanted. We like what he brings to the table and, as a late birth date, we’ll have him for (at least) three years and we’ll have a good finished product when it’s done.”

The Troops claimed right-shot centre Kurtis Evans of the Central Ontario Wolves minor midgets in the third round. Evans, a six-foot-two, 182-pound resident of Uxbridge, Ont., registered 14 goals and 18 assists for 32 points in 35 games. He turned 16 on March 3.

“He had a bit of slow start,” noted Hook, “but over the last half he started to put a lot of pucks in the net. He showed very well at the OHL Combine last weekend, and he showed he belonged out there with all the better players. We like his grit, and I was surprised at how fast he was. He has pretty quick feet. We moved him up our list and we were happy to get him where we got him.”

The Battalion tabbed left wingers Owen Diodati, Owen Belisle and Harrison Caines in the seventh, eighth and ninth rounds respectively.

Diodati, a six-foot-two, 193-pound resident of Niagara Falls, Ont., who turns 16 on Aug. 17, scored 14 goals and added nine assists for 23 points in 30 games for the Southern Tier Admirals minor midgets. Belisle, six-foot and 196 pounds, was chosen with one of two picks in the eighth and had eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 23 games for the Thunder Bay Kings under-16s. A Thunder Bay, Ont., resident, he turned 16 on March 2. Caines, a five-foot-11, 163-pound resident of Stouffville, Ont., who turned 16 on Feb. 14 with the Toronto Titans minor midgets, had one goal in four games at the OHL Cup.

“Diodati wasn’t on a good team, but he can really skate,” said Hook. “We like Belisle. He’s a big, strong kid with a powerful stride. He goes to the dirty areas and has some offensive upside. Caines has good speed. He’s a cerebral player. We think we got a kid a little later that’s going to surprise and step in and play.”

The Battalion took two skaters from the North Bay Trappers midgets as its next two forward picks, left-shot centre Ryan Mills in the 10th round and right winger Mat Hardwick in the 12th.

Mills, a five-foot-seven, 154-pound Callander resident, generated 22 goals and 15 assists for 37 points in 35 games. He turned 16 on March 15. Hardwick, a six-foot-one, 166-pounder from North Bay who turned 16 on March 23, scored 16 goals and added 11 assists for 27 points.

“He’s a smaller player but, every time you look at the game sheet, he’s getting points,” Hook said of Mills. “He always finds a way to get it done. We figured we could get him later and we did. He’s going to have to grow and get stronger, and he knows that. We think he’ll be a player down the road.

“Hardwick is a big body who skates pretty well and competes. We like the way he plays and, in a year’s time if he improves his feet, we think he’ll be a player for us.”

The Troops picked one United States-born player in left-shot centre Kyle Mandleur of the Mercer Chiefs under-16s in the 13th round. A six-foot-two, 256-pound resident of East Brunswick, N.J., Mandleur had 14 goals and 15 assists for 29 points in 23 games. He turned 16 on March 2.

“We haven’t seen him, but we have heard a lot about him,” acknowledged Hook. “Stan got a tip on him, and we did some checking. He’s a point-a-game guy. He’s a big kid and it’s a bit of a flyer, and if they work it’s great.”

The Battalion’s final forward was left winger Curtis Kuzmyk with one of two picks in the 14th round. A six-foot-two, 209-pound resident of Innisfil, Ont., he recorded 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points in 29 games for the Barrie Jr. Colts minor midgets. He turned 16 on Jan. 12.

“He’s big and competes hard,” said Hook. “I like his work ethic. He needs to pick up his foot speed. His hands aren’t bad. The package is there; it just needs some refinement for him to show us he can play in the OHL.”

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