Sports

Greyhounds' youth movement catching notice among NHL scouts

Sault St. Marie Greyhounds defenceman Conor Timmins plays against the Oshawa Generals in Oshawa, Ont., on Nov. 27, 2016. Timmins is one of eight Hounds players featured on NHL Central Scouting's

Sault St. Marie Greyhounds defenceman Conor Timmins plays against the Oshawa Generals in Oshawa, Ont., on Nov. 27, 2016. Timmins is one of eight Hounds players featured on NHL Central Scouting's "Players to Watch" list. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dhiren Mahiban

OSHAWA, Ont. — The Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds are in the second season of a successful youth movement, and NHL scouts are starting to take notice.

A Canadian Hockey League-leading eight Greyhounds were on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list released earlier this month in advance of the 2017 draft.

Morgan Frost, Conor Timmins, Anthony DeMeo, Liam Hawel, Mac Hollowell were all just 16-years-old at the start the 2015-16 season. With the Greyhounds dressing a younger lineup, the rookies were given an opportunity to play important minutes as Sault St. Marie finished third in the Western Conference and made it to the conference semifinals before losing to the Erie Otters in five games.

"One thing that we've done really well is give our kids a certain amount of rope to go out, as long as they're responsible, and I think that's why we have guys that are developing quickly," said Greyhounds head coach Drew Bannister.

Frost and Timmins lead the Hounds as 'B' rated skaters, which could see them go in the second or third round of next June's NHL Draft in Chicago.

Frost, a five-foot-10, 170-pound forward, is currently second in team scoring with 11 goals and 13 assists through 26 games. The Aurora, Ont., native, who tries to model is game after Ottawa Senators centre Derick Brassard, is an offensively gifted centre with excellent vision on the ice.

"Has a real high hockey IQ, probably already at the pro level," said Bannister. "He still has a lot of work to do on his body, hasn't matured that way, but his mind is far beyond a lot of the players in this league."

The 17-year-old is focused on his defensive play in his second OHL season.

"I'm trying to get better in the D-zone for sure," Frost said. "I can play with the puck and play offence, but I think if I can turn myself into more of a 200-foot player, that'll really benefit me in the long run."

Timmins leads all Greyhounds defencemen with 20 points through the first 26 games of the season. The six-foot-one, 185-pound Thorold, Ont., native has been the club's most consistent defenceman this season. He's a good puck-moving blue liner who quarterbacks the team's first power play unit.

"He's real smart with the puck just exiting our zone and the way we want to get on the offence — he does a great job making the right decisions with the puck," said Bannister. "He defends real well, real good stick, but all around his game has really matured quickly."

Timmins, originally a fourth-round pick of the Hounds at the 2014 OHL Priority Selection, has been focused on improving his skating.

"I think I've definitely come a long way," said Timmins, who tries to model his game after Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith. "Between working with my trainers in the summer and the coaches here in the Soo, I think I've had a lot of help and it's worked out well."

With as many as eight players expected to be selected in June, and their games being well-attended by NHL scouts, Frost admits its difficult to not worry about the rankings.

"I think it's a bit of an elephant in the room, we don't try to talk about it too much," he said, "but it's obviously in the back of everybody's mind. Everyone's pretty supportive in that sense so it's not an issue at all."