At a time when many things have to be altered, the 2020 OHL Priority Selection went ahead in much the same way that it always has.
The London Knights added 16 new names to their family, many of which come with hefty hockey connections.
In total, the Knights drafted four players whose fathers played at least at the major junior level, two went on to the National Hockey League and they also rolled the dice on a forward who some hockey experts believe could be the best player in the entire draft in Frank Nazar. London landed him in the fifth round.
The sons of Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith, former NHLer Steve Dubinsky and former Sarnia Sting standout Jon Sim came before and after that selection and that says nothing of the Knights’ first two selections that sat back-to-back on London’s master draft list.
London general manager Mark Hunter called the name Ben Bujold of the Kanata Lasers at number 19 and then three picks later landed defenceman Jackson Edward of the York-Simcoe Express with the second selection of the second round.
Knights associate general manager Rob Simpson says Bujold was a player who impressed the organization every time they watched him play.
“We’re extremely excited to have Ben. He is quick and fast and always has the puck on his stick. His work ethic is exceptional and he can make plays.”
980 CFPL colour commentator Jim Van Horne believes London fans can think back to some of the qualities a player like former Knights captain Chris Tierney brought to the ice when they picture the kind of player Bujold could develop into. Tierney currently plays just a little farther east from Bujold’s hometown of Richmond, Ont., with the Ottawa Senators.
The next name the Knights had down was Edward, who Simpson says brings all kinds of dimensions to the team.
“He’s a big six-foot, one-inch defenceman who skates very well. He can transport the puck out of his own end… and has a good combination of offence and defence to his game.”
Team personnel decorated screens through Zoom as opposed to seats in a war room making sure COVID-19 precautions were followed and some things ended up working out better that way.
“It was kind of funny,” laughed Simpson. “If guys got talking too much or got too argumentative, you were able to mute them out.”
That’s a feature that doesn’t exist under normal circumstances when everyone is in the same place.
Next came Colton Smith who, after his dad was named Senators head coach, moved to Ottawa and actually played on a line with Bujold as part of the Kanata Lasers.
Simpson says Smith is one of the best goal scorers in the draft.
Their fourth pick not only brought London a father-son connection, but it also brought a Mark Hunter connection to a player who used to play for him when Hunter was the head coach of the Sarnia Sting.
Landon Sim is the son of Jon Sim who recorded back-to-back 56-goal seasons with Hunter in 1995-96 and 96-97. Sim went on to play 469 games in the NHL.
Jon Sim is from Nova Scotia and was able to play in the OHL because when he was in major junior there were no teams in the Maritimes in the QMJHL. Landon Sim has been playing in Nova Scotia but made the decision to declare to be eligible to play in the OHL because his father had done so.
Like his father, Landon Sim is not a big player but he oozes skill and determination just like his dad.
For the third-straight selection, the Knights found bloodlines when they nabbed Brody Crane, whose dad Derrick played for London from 1990 to 1993 before being moved to the Ottawa 67s and Windsor Spitfires.
Brody is from Union, Ont., and is committed to Penn State but Simpson says he is a local player who has “skill and breakaway speed and a physical dimension to his game. With him being a local player we are hoping to be able to recruit him for the future.”
The Knights had a second pick in the fourth round and landed a defenceman who many feel could have gone much higher in Isaiah George.
“We had him rated very high up,” admitted Simpson. “He is a puck-moving defenceman. He breaks the puck out of his own zone very well. He has great gap-control and can really skate and has skill.
Then came a player to watch in round five. He may not be a Knight right away. He has many options as far as his future path is concerned but, according to Simpson, the Knights felt they have to give Frank Nazar one more option.
“He is committed to the USNTP but he could very well be the first overall pick. He is an exceptional player with talent and skill. He makes plays and has explosive speed. One of his favourite players growing up was Patrick Kane and we’re hoping he can one day follow along in that same model and be a London Knight after the program as well.”
The son of former Sudbury Wolves winger Terry Chitaroni was drafted two picks after Nazar. Mason Chitaroni played minor midget in Sault Ste. Marie this past season.
In the sixth round, London selected goaltender Owen Flores of the Chicago Young Americans. He was one of two goalies the Knights drafted. Owen Willmore of the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs was the Knights 14th round pick.
London took centre Jonah Aegerter of the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies in the seventh round and centre Andy Reist of the Waterloo Wolves in the ninth round.
The Knights went back to NHL bloodlines in Round 10 with defenceman Aiden Dubinsky. His father Steve played for the Chicago Blackhawks, the Calgary Flames, the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues.
In the past, Thunder Bay has brought London players who became captains like Danny Bois and Joel Scherban. In the eleventh round on Saturday, it gave the Knights forward Jack Pineau.
London drafted winger Nate Dowling of the Windsor Jr. Spitfires in the 13th round and closed their selections by taking centre Nicholas Yearwood of the North York Rangers.