OHL, top NHL Draft talent supplier, cancels season

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The Ontario Hockey League, one of the top suppliers of talent for the NHL Draft, will not play this season due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

“We have worked tirelessly with the province and the chief medical officer of health (Dr. David Williams) for the past year on different scenarios and different windows of opportunity, but the reality is the conditions in Ontario have never been right to start and complete an uninterrupted, safe opportunity for players to showcase their skills,” OHL commissioner David Branch said. “We owe it to our players and their families to be definitive. We were committed to return and play this season, but our hopes and desires have been dashed by the cruel realities of COVID-19.”

Four players from the Ontario Hockey League received A ratings on the NHL Central Scouting March players to watch list for the 2021 NHL Draft: defensemen Daniil Chayka and Brandt Clarke, and centers Mason McTavish and Francesco Pinelli. Each played games for teams in Europe this season.

Clarke, McTavish and Pinelli each will play for the Canada at the 2021 IIHF Under-18 World Championship. That 10-team tournament is scheduled to be played April 26-May 6 in Texas.

Seven players from the OHL were selected in the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft, including five of the first 10 picks: forward Quinton Byfield (No. 2, Los Angeles Kings), defenseman Jamie Drysdale (No. 6, Anaheim Ducks), forward Jack Quinn (No. 8, Buffalo Sabres), forward Marco Rossi (No. 9, Minnesota Wild) and forward Cole Perfetti (No. 10, Winnipeg Jets).

Players younger than 20 who were drafted from an OHL team also will be allowed to play in the American Hockey League the rest of the season. The agreement between the NHL and the Canadian Hockey League, which includes the OHL, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League, requires players younger than 20 to be returned to their junior team if not playing in the NHL.

The other two CHL leagues have been able to play. The QMJHL began its season Oct. 2 but has seen its 18 teams play between 26 and 43 games. The WHL started its season Feb. 26. Each league has played some of its games in multiteam protected environments.

The Memorial Cup, the annual CHL championship tournament, was canceled April 13. It had been scheduled to be played in Ontario.

“Ontario has the strongest health restrictions of any jurisdiction in North America and we understood that this would make a return to play scenario extremely difficult,” Branch said. “The openness the premier (Doug Ford), Minister Lisa MacLeod, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer and key staff have afforded us has not gone unnoticed and is greatly appreciated. We all agree that providing certainty for our players and families, even if it is not the answer they would want to hear, is the right thing for everyone’s health and safety and for the mental health challenges faced by many of our young players.”

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