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Checking in with the picks: Here’s how the Sudbury Wolves’ 2018 draft choices have fared this season

Sudbury Star

The 2019 OHL Priority Selection goes this Saturday

Nathan Ribau of the Oakville Blades calls out for the pass on March 20 at The Harbor Center in Buffalo, N.Y. Spencer Smye/OJHL Images

Nearly a year on, it’s difficult to imagine a much better outcome for the Sudbury Wolves, especially after a last-place finish in 2017-18, than an OHL Priority Selection that yielded centre Quinton Byfield and defenceman Jack Thompson in the first two rounds.

Byfield, touted as an elite mix of size, speed and skill, was the consensus first-overall pick in the draft and the Newmarket, Ont. native has lived up to the hype, scoring 29 goals and assisting on  32 others in a 64-game regular season. He has been just as good, if not better, to start the playoffs, recording three tallies and four helpers to lead the Wolves in a four-game sweep of the Mississauga Steelheads.

Thompson, selected in the second round, 30th overall, has only gotten better as the season has progressed, showing the offensive sense of a future power-play quarterback, along with an improving, low-panic game in his own zone. Pairing with fellow rookie Isaak Phillips for the late part of the regular season and the playoffs, the Courtice, Ont. product has only watched his ice time grow, along with his point totals.

Thompson finished the regular season with 16 points in 52 games and has already added three, all primary assists, in four post-season contests.

But wait, that’s not all — in addition to Byfield and Thompson, the Wolves have already found success with one of their later picks, taking late-blooming speedster Owen Robinson, a forward for the Blind River Beavers in the NOJHL, in the 10th round.

Robinson has looked every bit like an OHLer, collecting 41 points in 61 games and earning a spot in Sudbury’s top six. The newly 19-year-old had an excellent start to the playoffs, as well, with two assists in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarter-final, but was handed a three-game suspension for a late cross-check.

He’s eligible to return for Game 1 of the Wolves’ second-round series, to be played in Ottawa on Friday.

In any draft, getting a trio of players to build a team around is an excellent start. But what about Sudbury’s other picks in 2018? How have they fared in 2018-19?

With another OHL Priority Selection coming up this Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m., and followed in short order by the U18 draft, here’s a look at the rest of Sudbury’s  picks from 2018, many of whom will aim to join Byfield,  Thompson and Robinson as regulars on the roster with strong performances at spring orientation camp in a few weeks, then at main camp in late summer.

2018 OHL Priority Selection

Blake Butler — F, Lambton Junior Sting

Third round, 46th overall

The skilled Sarnia native spent his first season as a junior with the Sarnia Legionnaires of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. His point production picked up as the year went on, eventually yielding 10 goals and 19 assists in 48 games and, encouragingly, three goals in four playoff tilts. A good-sized centre at six feet an 190 pounds, Butler has the ability to both score and make plays. He has continued to work on his skating to prepare for a jump to the ever-faster OHL.

Nathan Ribau — D, Oakville Rangers

Fourth round, 78th overall

A rugged, well-rounded defender with the ability to throw a punishing bodycheck, Ribau also made the leap to junior with his hometown team, the high-powered Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. While the Blades’ overall depth may have resulted in relatively less ice time for the six-foot, 174-pounder — he dressed for 44 games, collecting three assists — Ribau has nonetheless continued to impress Sudbury brass with his work ethic. Indeed, a lengthy playoff run may provide valuable experience.

Jonathan Lemaire — G, Kemptville 73’s

Fifth round, 85th overall

Lemaire has already signed in Sudbury, joining the team after the Jan. 10 trade deadline, but the towering 6-foot-6 native of Gloucester, Ont. has been included in this list as a prospect due to his relative inexperience in the OHL. He has seen action in four games, though only one full contest, a win over the Flint Firebirds. Prior to that, he played 24 games with the Kemptville midgets, posting a solid 2.27 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. The Wolves brought him on board after Jake McGrath was traded to Niagara, giving the youngster an opportunity to learn alongside No. 1 netminder Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

Kyle Aucoin — D, Chicago Mission

Seventh round, 121st overall

The Wolves made no bones about their hope to sign Aucoin, a smooth-skating rearguard born in Ottawa and the son of former NHLer Adrian Aucoin, especially after his strong showing at training camp. Aucoin returned to the Mission 16U squad, however, and eventually committed to Harvard of the NCAA for 2021-22. In 19 games for Chicago this season, the 5-foot-11, 155-pound blueliner had a goal and eight assists. He also played seven games for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL, earning a plus-2 rating.

Michael Tiveron — F, Brampton 45’s

Eighth round, 141st overall

With the offensive potential to make him a late-round steal, the Brampton native has worked this season to become a 200-foot player worthy of a long look by Sudbury’s staff. Playing this season for the Oakville Rangers midget squad — the same team that help produce current Wolves Emmett Serensits and Owen Robinson — Tiveron led the entire South Central Triple A league with 25 goals in 31 games, while adding 18 assists. He was just as good in the playoffs, with six goals and seven assists in eight games.

Simon Labelle — F, Rockland Nationals

10th round, 181st overall

Playing for Rockland in the Central Canada Hockey League, one of the top Tier II loops in Canada, did little to slow the progress of the hard-hustling Ottawa native. Labelle’s 15 goals and 22 assists in 48 games nearly matched his midget totals from 2017-18. The swift skater also had three assists in his first five playoff games.

Darren Beattie — D, Lambton Junior Sting

10th round, 191st overall

Speaking of swift, smooth skaters, Butler’s former teammate also spent the season in the GOJHL, though the Lambeth, Ont. product suited up for the St. Thomas Stars. A rocket start to the season in terms of offensive output was impossible to sustain, but Beattie still put his speed and smarts to good use while rounding out the defensive side of his game. Beattie finished the year with five goals and 15 assists in 46 games.

Ryan Smith — F, North Central Predators

11th round, 201st overall

In an effort to remain under the watchful eye of Sudbury staff, Smith left his Bala, Ont. stomping grounds to sign with the French River Rapids, a team that also included Wolves picks Levi Siau and Marshall Frappier. The results were impressive, as Smith scored 13 goals and added 23 assists to finish third among 2002-born skaters with 36 points.

Robbie Stewart — D, Niagara North Stars

12th round, 221st overall

One of the biggest bodies in Sudbury’s 2018 draft class at 6-foot-3, the St. Catharines native opted to go the prep school route for his 16-year-old season with the local Ridley College. Stewart had six points in 27 regular-season games, followed by three in nine in the playoffs.

Nicholas Heinzle — G, Hawkesbury Hawks

13th round, 241st overall

The second goalie drafted by the Wolves in 2018, Heinzle also turned to a prep program, The Hill Academy in Vaughan, Ont., for 2018-19. The 6-foot-2, 174-pounder posted a goals-against average of 1.85 and save percentage of .914.

Giordano Biondi — F, Sudbury Wolves

14th round, 261st overall

Another speedster and the only local product on the list, Biondi had a breakout season with Rayside-Balfour of the NOJHL, scoring 15 goals and assisting on 17 others in 47 games. He showed well, too, in Rayside’s first-round playoff series, with three points in five games.

Luke Strickland — F, Markham Waxers

15th round, 281st overall

Strickland was a steady scorer this season, with 39 points in 30 games for the Markham midgets in the Eastern Triple A League. A native of Keswisk, Ont., he also amassed 15 points in 12 playoff games, tying for the league lead.

2018 OHL Under-18 Priority Selection

Mitchell Weeks — G, North Central Predators

First round, first overall

A Barrie native, Weeks grew considerably after his first year of OHL draft eligibility and that, combined with a solid season in the ETA midget league, prompted the Wolves to make him the first pick in the second OHL U18 draft. Weeks was a standout for the Newmarket Hurricanes of the OJHL, posting a sparkling 1.72 goals-against average and .941 save percentage, then following up with a 1.75 GAA and .922 percentage in the playoffs, before a heartbreaker loss to Markham. Like Lemaire, Weeks has already signed with the Wolves, and dressed for a handful of games while Luukkonen was away at world juniors. He picked up his first major-junior victory against his hometown Barrie Colts in January.

Mitchell Weeks of the Newmarket Hurricanes battles for the puck in the third period on March 20 at Ray Twinney Recreation Complex in Newmarket, Ont. Andy Corneau/OJHL Images / (Photo by Andy Corneau / OJHL Im

Ryan McAllister — F, London Junior Knights

Second round, 21st overall

Starting the season with London of the GOJHL, McAllister’s year really took off after he and Sudbury native Dario Beljo were dealt to the Komoka Kings, a younger squad offering more ice time to the London native. He had 18 points in 14 games down the stretch, then followed with eight in 12 in the playoffs. McAllister also had a solid showing at training camp, giving the Wolves hope he could be another late bloomer like Robinson, but he has since committed to Western Michigan of the NCAA, leaving his OHL status in question.

Jack Zekelman — D, Windsor Junior Spitfires

Third round, 41st overall

The mystery man of the 2018 U18 draft, at least as far as Sudbury fans are concerned, the Tecumseh, Ont. native didn’t attend camp last year, but he did show flashes of potential as a mobile, puck-moving defender in 33 games with the Chatham Maroons of the GOJHL this season.

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

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