If #37-ranked Keaton Middleton was the pick that left the fanbase a little curious in 2016, #36-ranked Ryan O’Connell was the player who fit that bill in 2017. Most are tuned out by the time the seventh round comes around, but drafting a player out of a local high school? That’s how you get people perked up.

Age 18 (April 25th, 1999) Birthplace Gloucester, Ontario
Pos Defence (LH) Drafted 2017 (Rd 7, Pick 203)
Vitals 6’1, 170lbs Acquired Via Draft

Granted, O’Connell wasn’t pulled out of an everyday high school. He spent his time at St. Andrew’s College, which is a private school in Aurora, Ontario. The reason he chose to play there? He had his education on his mind. Via NeutralZone.net:

“After participating in the OHL Gold Cup in Kitchener, Waterloo (April 2015, with the Ottawa Junior 67’s), I was contacted by Dave Manning, Coach of the St. Andrew’s College “Saints”. Coach Manning had seen me play and thought I would be a good fit on his hockey team. I had a tough decision to make within a short period of time as the Nepean Raiders (CCHL) had also offered me a spot on their team; but academically, I knew I would be getting a top notch education at St. Andrew’s College (SAC) as it is one of the leading private schools in Canada. Everything happened so fast. My family and I visited the school in June, 2015, loved what we saw and the people we met, and I started Grade Eleven a couple of months later (September 2015). I was fortunate to have received a two-year scholarship.”

That’s a pretty mature decision to make from a player who knew that he wasn’t in the absolute elite echelon that can make the bet on making it to professional hockey.

13  2012-13  Ottawa Jr. 67s  OEMBHL 22 3 9 12 6
14  2013-14  Ottawa Jr. 67s  OEBHL 29 3 22 25 6
15  2014-15  Ottawa Jr. 67s  OEMMHL 21 2 16 18 8
16  2015-16  St. Andrew’s College  CAHS 55 4 27 31 14 3.7
17  2016-17  St. Andrew’s College  CAHS 47 6 27 33 18 4.6
18  2017-18  Penticton Vees  BCHL 2 0 0 0 0 0 0

Honestly, there’s not a lot that we can make out of his numbers. High School stats aren’t particularly reliable, though it’s nice to see that he was a decently solid AAA player, to the point of outscoring Erik Gudbranson’s Minor Midget numbers with the same team nine years prior, and Calvin De Haan’s in the same league. That’s not to say he’s in their tier by any means, but it’s nice to note.

pGPSn pGPSs Exp. Success % Exp. P/82 Exp. Value
Player did not play in a league with a pGPS-compatible sample size

Again, though, O’Connell isn’t taking anything close to a frequently travelled route. Projection stats don’t bother with High School data because of how incomprehensive it is and because so few players that even stand a shot at making it head in that direction. Matt Dumba is probably the best NHLer right now with Canadian High School experience, and he shifted over to the WHL two years before his draft day. Dan Renouf, a Detroit Red Wings stretch prospect, played one year at The Hill Academy in Thornhill before switching to the USHL, and that’s about as far as you get when it comes to notability.

But there’s a lot to like about him, in theory. Mark Hunter praised his skating ability after Toronto picked him, and those who have seen him play a bit tend to note his offensive vision and his ability to make passes and move the puck. Unlike many of their hail mary attempts to find a raw stay-at-home defenceman, the Leafs’ gamble here appears to be on raw offensive upside with O’Connell.

The Upcoming Year

I mentioned before that O’Connell seems to understand his own odds and has carved himself a fallback plan. Another great example of that is his commitment to going the college route, in an effort to both play the game and obtain a degree in engineering:

“Not only does BU have a fantastic hockey team, coaching staff, and facility, they also have a strong academic presence. I was watching this year’s NHL draft and when they kept calling BU players in the first round and beyond – it confirmed what an awesome hockey program they offer. I was so hopeful that they would offer me a commitment. I was offered other commitments from NCAA schools and chances to play with other Canadian teams, but I told myself that I would wait until this summer to decide. I am so happy to be part of this great organization and I am over the moon on how things turned out for me!” 

However, this commitment is for 2018/19, not this season. He’ll be taking the upcoming year to play for the Penticton Vees, a Junior-A team about as far away from his current home and his future school as you can find in North America, playing in the BCHL.

I’m very curious to see how the team decides to use him, given that an offensive defenceman was something they lacked last year. No defenceman scored more than 23 points last year, a far cry from Nashville Predators prospect Dante Fabbro’s gaudy 67 points in 45 game season for them in 2015/16. O’Connell will likely get his fair share of powerplay reps as a result, especially with two of Penticton’s four top defensive scorers off to college this year.

Long-Term Outlook

Let’s be honest here; this may be the definition of a project prospect. O’Connell has not come from anything close to a traditional development path and given his focus on his education, it’s very likely that we won’t see him wear even an AHL jersey for another five years.

That’s a very long time for a very long shot. We’re not going to have even the slightest clue whether he’s worth getting excited about for at least another two or three. But hey, it’s a seventh-round pick, he looks like he plays fun hockey, and if they get a hit here, nobody with the slightest connection to the organization will ever shut up about it.

To see the other profiles in this year’s series, please reference the full list.

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