Michigan's influence on the Ontario Hockey League draft was never greater than on Saturday when Detroit Honeybaked's U15 team had 12 players selected.
For the first time since the OHL Priority Draft began in 1981 (Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman of the Nepean Raiders was selected No. 4 overall that year, one spot behind his assistant GM Pat Verbeek of the Petrolia Jets), a Michigan team had more players taken than the talent-rich Toronto teams that traditionally dominate the draft.
Compuware also had 12 players selected in Saturday's draft, which was held online, adhering to all government and public health COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines but those 12 players were from the U16 and U15 teams combined. Overall, Michigan-based teams including Little Caesars and the Oakland Junior Grizzlies had 36 players selected, four more than last year's record-setting draft.
"I think in Detroit and in Michigan in general, the market is obviously a hockey hotbed," U15 Honeybaked coach Jason Deskins said. "With this particular deep and talented age group, the OHL might provide an opportunity for them to play at 16 and get the development and exposure they want. The true test will be when these kids are 17, 18 or 19 years old. Each draft class develops differently and some kids come out of nowhere."
Honeybaked center Max Namestnikov, the younger brother of Colorado Avalanche winger Vladislav Namestnikov, the son of former NHL defenseman Evgeny Namestnikov and the nephew of two-time Stanley Cup champion Slava Kozlov of the Red Wings, was the top Michigan-area player taken in the draft.
The 15-year-old Namestnikov was the third overall pick by the Sarnia Sting, who are co-owned by former Red Wings Derian Hatcher and Dave Legwand. Namestnikov, who scored 53 goals with 128 points in 59 games along with a plus-125 rating and a 64 percent faceoff winning percentage, had expressed interest in attending Michigan State but picked the OHL over the NCAA on Saturday.
"I'm choosing the route to play for the Sarnia Sting," Namestnikov said. "It's what my family wants. It's what I want. I gave the (MSU) coach (Danton Cole) a call and with all due respect, I told him I was choosing the path to go to the OHL. He fully respected my path and my choice."
Namestnikov's uncle Ivan Novoseltsev also played for the Sting from 1997-1998, scoring 83 goals in two seasons before scoring 31 goals in five years with the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes. It was during Novoseltsev's OHL career that Namestnikov's brother would go down to the Joe Louis Arena dressing room and meet the players, including the Russian Five (Kozlov, Igor Larionov, Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov and Slava Fetisov).
"The Russian Five, that was a special bond then," said Namestnikov, who was only 7 years old when Detroit won the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups. "A lot of people don't get a chance to do what they did as a unit, the records. That was a different style of play. I don't know if that's going to happen again."
Kevin Hess, the Michigan scout for OHL's Central Scouting, says part of the success of teams like Honeybaked and Compuware can be traced to 2009 when USA Hockey launched the American Development Program for age-appropriate, age-specific competition and training structure.
"One of the things they did with the younger age groups was cut it down to half-ice hockey," Hess said. "I have a four-year-old (Olivia) and there's no way that she can cover an entire rink going up and down. Half-ice hockey allows you to make decisions in tighter spaces and it really pushes skill development."
Hess also credits former players like Deskins (Miami of Ohio/ECHL) and the coaches of the other 24 players for Saturday's historic draft success. Going back further, he cites a coach like Belle Tire's Joe Smaza (University of Wisconsin-River Falls/ECHL) for helping to develop four NHL first-rounders from the 1996 team (Dylan Larkin, Zach Werenski, Kyle Connor and Brendan Perlini).
"Just like any change, there's always a bit of push back at first but this shows how the U.S. development model is working here and across the country," Hess said. "With this Honeybaked team, you just had the right group of people, the right group of coaches, the right group of kids. It was truly amazing."
2020 OHL Priority Draft
Here's the list of local players taken in Saturday's 15-round OHL draft.
3. Max Namestnikov, C, Honeybaked, Sarnia Sting
8. Spencer Sova, D, Honeybaked, Erie Otters
14. Ryan Abraham, C, Compuware, Windsor Spitfires
16. Gavin Hayes, RW, Compuware, Flint Firebirds
59. Thomas Budnick, D, Honeybaked, Kingston Frontenacs
65. Cutter Gauthier, LW, Compuware, Kitchener Rangers
69. Hunter Brzustewicz, D, Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, Barrie Colts
79. Rutger McGroarty, C, Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, Soo Greyhounds
89. Andrew Oke, G, Honeybaked, Saginaw Spirit
97. Frank Nazar, RW, Honeybaked, London Knights
101. Tyler Duke, D, Compuware, Saginaw Spirit
118. Owen Baker, RW, Honeybaked, Saginaw Spirit
127. Dylan Gordon, D, Honeybaked, Mississauga Steelheads
133. Christian Kocsis, LW, Honeybaked, Oshawa Generals
137. Nathan Lewis, RW, Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, Kitchener Rangers
139. Jonah Aegerter, Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, London Knights
144. Justin Varner, LW, Honeybaked, Soo Greyhounds
147. Tucker Shedd, D, Compuware, Kitchener Rangers
156. Seth Constance, D, Compuare, Flint Firebirds
163. Zach Filak, C, Compuware, Sarnia Sting
171. Landon West, LW, Compuware, Sudbury Wolves
181. Gus Hinckley, D, Honeybaked, North Bay Battalion
187. Landon MacDonald, RW, Brighton High School, Mississauga Steelheads
197. Brian Robertson, D, Compuware, Owen Sound Attack
200. Cameron Korpi, G, Little Caesars, Ottawa 67's
202. Ilia Chmelevski, C, Victory Honda, Niagara IceDogs
203. Ryan Transit, D, Little Caesars, Sarnia Sting
210. Patrick Czarnecki, D, Honeybaked, Owen Sound Attack
218. Dominic Elliott, D, Fox Motors HC, Saginaw Spirit
234. Michael Mesic, C, Compuware, Windsor Spitfires
238. Chase Pietila, D, Honeybaked, London Knights
249. Jake Kovacs, C, Soo Thunderbirds, Barrie Colts
256. Samuel Assinewai, Compuware, Flint Firebirds
264. Owen West, D, Belle Tire, Soo Greyhounds
286. Logan Cuvo, RW, Belle Tire, Oshawa Generals
296. Nicholas Sofikitis, D, Compuware, Flint Firebirds
Players selected from Michigan-based teams in the OHL Priority Selections since 2010.