10 Niagara IceDogs Alumni to watch - 2021 NHL Season
Written by Brandon Caputo
Photo Credit: niagaraicedogs.net via Vivid Eye Photography
As we anxiously await the hopeful start of the 2021 OHL Season to begin, we can at the very least turn our attention to the NHL side as we prepare to watch some of the beloved Niagara iceDogs over the years take the ice for the next chapter of their hockey journeys.
For the sake of this article, we will be highlighting 10 specific members of the IceDogs Alumni to keep an eye on for the upcoming 2021 Season, who you'll be able to follow along with on their respective NHL clubs.
To be clear, this is meant to be an opinion based piece. All thoughts were based on those of my own personal observations of covering the team as a member of the media & beforehand from afar.
*All statistics for today's article were gathered from elitesprospects.com
*NHL Line Projections gathered from leftwinglock.com
Make sure you are keeping up to date with all of our IceDogs content
on the Dog Pound Podcast, through our dedicated Twitter Account.
Click the picture below to be redirected to that Twitter page👇
Additionally, catch IceDogs Xtra LIVE every Wednesday Night on Your TV Niagara, as I am joined by Matt Young, Steve Clark, & Austin Broad to discuss all relevant news regarding the OHL & our local Niagara IceDogs.
Click the logo below where you will be redirected to the IceDogs Xtra Twitter account to stay up to date with all news regarding the weekly show 👇
1. Jack Studnicka C/RW - Boston Bruins
Photo Credit: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
A 2018-19 Assistant Captain for the IceDogs after being acquired from the Oshawa General's where he was their team captain for 2 seasons. His short half season stint in Niagara was to be remembered as he had 49 points in 30 games, as well as 11 points in 11 playoff games during the IceDogs playoff run that was unfortunately cut short in a 2nd round defeat, oddly enough to Jack's former Oshawa Generals squad.
Drafted in the 2nd round 53rd overall in 2017 by the Boston Bruins, Studnicka has skyrocketed up their depth charts & had an impressive 49 points in 60 games for the Bruins AHL Affiliate in Providence last season.
He has been deemed "untouchable" in many trade rumours involving the Bruins over the last few seasons &
is deemed to be their top forward prospect.
Photo Credit: BP Sports Niagara via Vivid Eye.ca
Although only in the 1st week of the NHL season, he has gone through a huge transition to start his 1st full rookie campaign. He was projected to start the season on the Bruins top line alongside Brad Marchand & Patrice Bergeron with the injury to star right winger David Pastrnak. That experience looks to be short lived as he was moved off of that line after the Bruins 1st game (-1 Rating with11:40 time on ice) & was a healthy scratch for their 2nd game.
Although not a good start, this is still a sign of good things to come for the 21 year old as it shows that the Bruins have trust & confidence in him at this beginning stage of his career. This demotion should not deter Studnicka,
a small bump in the road & important learning experience if nothing else for someone who will be a big part of the Boston Bruins plan moving forward, as they transition from an aging roster in the next few seasons.
2. Ryan Strome C/RW - New York Rangers
Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
A Niagara IceDog acquired in 2009 from Barrie for Franchise Defenseman: Alex Pietrangelo who was in his final year of OHL eligibility before moving onto the NHL, ended up becoming one of the best acquisitions in IceDogs franchise history. Between 2009-13 Strome accumulated 281 points in only 191 games along with 41 points in 44 playoff games as a Niagara IceDog. Strome was named Team Captain for the 2012-13 season & is still viewed as one of the most memorable alumni of the franchise to this day.
Thanks to an astonishing OHL career in Niagara, Strome was drafted 5th overall in the 2011 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders. That is where his career went through a rollercoaster. After 4 underwhelming seasons with the Islanders and their AHL Affiliate Bridgeport, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for fan favourite & Team Canada World Junior standout: Jordan Eberle. After another underwhelming 2 seasons in Edmonton from 2017-19, he was traded to the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan Spooner.
Photo Credit: niagarafallsreview.ca
Looking to be his final chance before being labelled as another top prospect casualty to be put into the "bust" category, that is where things finally changed for the good. In a career renaissance of sort, as he finished off the 2018-19 season with a respectable 18 goals and 33 points in 63 games as a Ranger. Building off of that positive momentum, the 2019-20 season is where things took off for Strome as he managed 59 points in only 70 games for a Rangers team that was projected to be going through a tough transition period as a rebuilding team.
Thanks to Strome's contributions, the Rangers made the playoffs in the NHL Return to Play format & eventually won the Draft Lottery & selected Alexis Lafreniere 1st overall, adding another dynamic skilled winger for Strome to have an opportunity to play alongside.
Going into the 2021 season with a brand new 2 year contract with an average AAV of 4.5 Million, Strome is currently centring a line with the aforementioned Lafreniere & prized free agent acquisition from the
2019 season: Artemi Panarin who eclipsed 95 points last season.
Strome's first 2 games this season have not been his greatest with 0 points, but is averaging about 20:30 minutes of ice time. If last season was a preview of what to expect given the loaded talent around him once again in New York, this could be another major point producing year for the 27 year old who has finally proving why he was so highly touted as a 4th overall draft pick by finally reaching his potential as an NHL top 6 forward.
3. Phil Tomasino C/W - Nashville Predators
Photo Credit: John Russell/NHL via Getty Images
One of the most recent graduates, Phil Tomasino surely made an impression on IceDog fans & hockey fans everywhere with his top end skill & high character traits. The 5th overall pick by the IceDogs in 2017, Tomasino accumulated a respectable 153 points in 164 games as an IceDog before being moved to the Oshawa Generals in a trade deadline deal that caught many hockey fans off-guard.
As a rebuilding team at this point, the IceDogs found the offer of 12 draft picks for the all-star too much to pass up on. In 26 games for Oshawa before their hopeful playoff season was cut short due to COVID-19, Tomasino had 43 points in only 26 games for the Generals.
It was to nobody's surprise when Tomasino was selected in the 1st round 24th overall by the Nashville Predators in 2019, as anyone who covered the IceDogs or the OHL knew that Phil had elite level talent that could transition to an NHL career someday.
With the 2020-21 OHL season being put on hold due to the pandemic, Tomasino's only game action was as a part of Team Canada's World Junior tournament roster. He did not disappoint as he had 6 points with a
+8 rating in 7 games, while only having 12:07 of average ice time per game during the tournament.
Photo Credit: Bernd Franke via stcatharinesstandard.ca
After perfect tournament that ended in a 2-0 heartbreak to Team USA in the Gold Medal game, Tomasino turned his attention to Nashville Predators camp. Unfortunately for Phil, he was placed in quarantine after travelling to Nashville late into camp due to the length of the World Junior Championship conflicting with the NHL training camp dates. As of January 13th Tomasino was assigned to the Predators AHL Affiliate for this season in Chicago, with the new rules that are in place this season due to no junior hockey being played currently.
A big opportunity for Tomasino to get some action in the AHL and is still very much in the Predators plans moving forward into the future, as he was projected to be fighting for a possibly Top 6 or Top 9 forward spot going into training camp. It is quite possible that we could see Phil called up to Nashville at some point this season, which is very impressive given the fact that he still has 1 more year of OHL availability if the league were to resume.
Oshawa would surely love to have him back to make them contenders for the OHL championship if the season does eventually start back up but at this point given Phil's progression, it would be hard for us to imagine that he's not going to thrive & stick with his opportunity to play in the pro's for either the AHL Wolves or
NHL Predators this season.
4. Akil Thomas C - Los Angeles Kings
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Where to begin with one of the most memorable IceDogs not just in recent memory, but maybe of all-time given his notoriety & love nationwide after scoring the Golden Goal for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships last year.
The 12th overall pick in 2016 by Niagara, Akil Thomas was a constant pro on & off the ice during his 3.5 seasons as an IceDog. An Assistant Captain in years 2 & 3, leading to the Captaincy in his 4th year,
Akil totalled a ridiculous 275 points in 219 games along with 17 points in 22 playoff games in Niagara.
In an emotional trade to Peterborough during the 2020 OHL Trade Deadline after scoring the Golden Goal for Canada & appearing 1 last time to drop the puck in the pre-game ceremony to bid farewell to the Niagara community; Thomas was bound for glory if the OHL season were to have finished.
In his 22 games in Peterborough, Akil totalled 40 points including an extremely tough game back in Niagara, in which he had 2 goals & 4 assists in a 12-1 beatdown of the team he once captained.
Photo Credit: niagaraicedogs.net
As his Junior Hockey career has now ended, he was loaned to Eisbaren Berlin of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga by the LA Kings in late November to stay in game shape & to be ready for LA Kings camp once the NHL started up their shortened season in January.
As of January 12th, Akil was sent down by the Kings to their AHL Affiliate: Ontario (California) Reign. Although being sent down, Thomas is viewed as one of the franchises core pieces moving forward into the future with the youth movement of the LA Kings looking to take over for their aging core who once won them multiple Stanley Cups.
Their 2nd round pick 51st overall in 2018: Akil Thomas is sure to be one of those young prospects looking to make the jump to the big club in the near future with an opportunity of an NHL call-up. That's hoping things go well for the AHL Reign & if the NHL Kings decide that they want to inject some of that skilled youth into their lineup at some point this season.
5. Alex Pietrangelo RD - Vegas Golden Knights
Photo Credit: @GoldenKnights/VegasGoldenKnights.com
Being my personal favourite alumni of the franchise: Alex Pietrangelo has without a doubt been the most successful Niagara IceDog graduate, as far as translated NHL success. The 3rd overall pick in 2006 by the Mississauga IceDogs (who eventually relocated to become the Niagara IceDogs) Pietrangelo played 2 seasons in Niagara where he accumulated an impressive 82 points in 96 games as a Defenseman, along with captaining the team during the 2008-09 season.
With the writing on the wall that he was destined for the NHL after being drafted 4th overall by the St.Louis Blues in the 2008 Entry Draft (including playing 8 games with the big club to start the 2008-09 season), he was traded to the Barrie Colts for his final OHL season in 2009-10 for another special IceDog alumni previously mentioned in this article: Ryan Strome.
Photo Credit: National Hockey League via Facebook
In his 12 great seasons as a St. Louis Blue, which included 3 seasons as an Assistant Captain & the last 4 seasons as Captain of the team, he led them to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2018-19 and becoming the 1st Niagara IceDog to captain an NHL team to a Championship.
He has also competed on a National level for Team Canada where he has 2 Gold Medals from the 2014 Winter Olympics & the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
In his illustrious 13 year career in the NHL so far, the 30 year old Pietrangelo has accumulated 451 points in 759 games as a cornerstone Defenseman of the Blues organization, who has recently moved on to the Vegas Golden Knights after signing a massive 7-year $61.6 million dollar free agent contract this past offseason.
Photo Credit: Rick Denham/Icon SMI
Pietrangelo is being relied upon to bring the same pedigree of success that he had with the Blues during his NHL career to the Vegas Golden Knights where he will be slotted in as their #1 Defenseman, as well as quarterbacking their Top Powerplay Unit. Through 2 games this season Alex has accumulated 1 assist, a +3 rating, & an astonishing 8 blocked shots as a key component to his success.
As we do every season, we expect another huge season from Pietrangelo and look for him to continue to make the Niagara community proud as being one of the first stops on his journey towards a future Hockey Hall of Fame career when it is all said and done.
6. Jason Robertson LW/RW - Dallas Stars
Photo Credit: NHLI via Getty Images
Along with the aforementioned Jack Studnicka who was acquired for the same playoff run in 2018-19, Robertson still made a lasting impact in his half season as an IceDog. After being traded from the Kingston Frontenacs as their Assistant Captain and accumulating 38 points in 24 games, he took off in his 38 games in Niagara by totalling 79 points in that time & led the OHL in points that season(117) with "video game" numbers.
Along with receiving a Silver Medal for Team USA at the World Junior Tournament, the first team all-star had 10 points in 10 playoff games for the IceDogs that season, who previously mentioned had a disappointing 2nd round exit in 2018-19.
Drafted in the 2nd Round 39th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 2017 Entry Draft, Robertson started his pro career last season in 2019-20 with the Dallas' AHL Affiliate: Texas Stars where he accumulated an impressive
47 points in 60 games as a 20 year old. Jason was even called up to the NHL for a short 3 game stint where he managed to get 1 assist during that time.
Photo Credit: niagaraicedogs.net via Ontario Hockey League
Going into the 2021 season, the Dallas Stars are still in quarantine after positive COVID-19 cases have delayed the start of their season, postponing the teams first 4 games. Due to this, unfortunately Robertson's 1st full rookie campaign has gotten off to a delayed start, but once it does get going he will be relied upon to play a big role with the Dallas Stars in the absence of their star winger Tyler Seguin who is recovering from off-season surgery.
As of now, Robertson is slated to be on the Stars 2nd line LW spot alongside long-time NHL pro's
Joe Pavelski & Alex Radulov, as well as starting the season on the Stars 2nd powerplay Unit.
Playing with 2 veterans like that who have had so much success in the league will only help Robertson along in his development & ambition of becoming a steadfast top-6 NHL forward as his career is just getting started as a 21 year old who the Stars see as one of their core players moving into the future.
7. Carter Verhaeghe C/W - Florida Panthers
Photo Credit: Sportsnet via Facebook Watch
The 2nd round pick 38th overall in 2011 by the Niagara IceDogs is one of the only players on this list to start & finish his OHL career in Niagara. In his 4 year OHL career spanning from 2011-15, Verhaeghe accumulated 224 points in 262 games, along with 25 points in 41 playoff games. Carter was also an assistant captain in his 3rd year & dawned the Captaincy for the team in his final season.
A constant pro on & off the ice, it was no shock that Verhaeghe was selected in the 3rd round 82nd overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2013 NHL Draft. Along with some of the other names on this list, Carter's NHL journey didn't exactly take a conventional route.
He was traded to the New York Islanders organization in 2015 & spent 2 seasons between their AHL Affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers, as well as being sent down to the ECHL's Missouri Mavericks. Verhaeghe was then traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization where his career finally started to trend upwards.
Photo Credit: Graig Abel/Getty Images
In 2 seasons with the Lightning's AHL Affiliate Syracuse Crunch, Carter accumulated 130 points in only 132 games and received 3 incredible honours in the 2018-19 season which included: 1st Team All-Star,
Most Goals Award, & Most Points Award. Thanks to this breakout season, he was brought up to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 2019-20 season where he played a very important Bottom-6 role for a stacked Lightning team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
During that season, Verhaeghe totalled 13 points in 52 games, but despite the low point total was asked to take on a major defensive & penalty kill role with the club. As a reward for their hard work & domination during the 2019-20 season, Cater & the Lightning went on to claim the Stanley Cup in the Return To Play playoff format during the COVID-19 pandemic. Verhaeghe now holds the claim to the most recent IceDogs Alumni to win hockey's ultimate & most cherished prize.
Thanks to the hard work & perseverance of Carter during his long road to being a mainstay in the NHL,
he was rewarded with a 2-year $2 million dollar contract during the 2020 offseason by the Florida Panthers.
We guess staying in Florida to play hockey isn't such a bad thing, but Verhaeghe & his team are behind the eight ball as the Florida Panthers are one of the organizations who were forced to delay the start of their season due to positive COVID-19 cases within the team.
In his 1st game of the season last night, Carter had the primary Assist on Florida's 3rd goal of the game
(which turned out to be the game winner) and finished as a +1 rating with 16:43 of ice-time.
Verhaeghe was projected to start the season on the Panther's top line LW spot alongside all-world centre Alesander Barkov & fellow newcomer Anthony Duclair, along with entering the Panthers 2nd Powerplay Unit. With many new faces & not a lot of notable/established skill outside of their top 4 forwards, Carter will have every opportunity to prove to coach Quennevillle & the Panthers organization that his contract was a bargain if he can be a point producing mainstay as a top-6 forward, while logging plenty of ice-time in key situations.
8. Vince Dunn LD - St. Louis Blues
Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
The 109th overall pick in the 2012 OHL Draft seems to have definitely made all OHL General Managers wonder how they let this guy go so long after seeing his progression from the OHL to the NHL. During his 3 OHL seasons from 2013-16, Dunn accumulated 132 points in 185 games as a Defenseman and spent his entire career as an IceDog, along with 1 previous season locally as a member of the Thorold Blackhawks in the 2012-13 GOJHL season. Dunn accumulated 23 points in 27 playoff games during his OHL career, including a heartbreaking loss to the London Knights in the OHL Championship during his final season.
Vince was drafted in the 2nd round 56th overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 2015 NHL Draft, oddly enough following in the footsteps of another IceDogs Defenseman previously drafted by the Blues: Alex Pietrangelo. After his OHL career, Dunn spent 1 season with the AHL's Chicago Wolves in 2016-17, where he had 45 points in 72 games as a young Defenseman along with being selected as an All-Star in his 1st full year of pro hockey.
Photo Credit: thepeterboroughexaminer.com
Since then, Vince has established himself as an all-around solid & reliable mainstay in the NHL. He captured the Stanley Cup Championship in 2018-19 alongside IceDog Alex Pietrangelo and has accumulated 82 points in 226 NHL games so far. Just before this 2021 season got underway, he was rewarded with a 1-year extension for the Blues worth $1.875 million.
Through 2 games this season, Dunn & the Blues have struggled out of the gates against a very good Colorado Avalanche team in the re-aligned Pacific Division this season, starting off with an 0-2 record.
Dunn personally has 0 points,a -2 rating, & is averaging 17:45 minutes of ice-time.
Although a slow start, Vince is slated to be the Quarterback on the Blues 2nd Powerplay Unit this season & could move up into their Top-4 D if needed in case of injury or lack of performance from Krug or Scandella on the left side. A big season for Dunn as his 1-year extension means that he will be trying to prove his way into a longterm deal with the club, for his hopeful big payday on his next NHL contract.
9. Jamie Oleksiak LD - Dallas Stars
Photo Credit: Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
The former 7th round pick of the OHL's Saginaw Spirit back in 2008, Jamie Oleksiak sure has exceeded expectations of what he was projected to be as a pro hockey player. Although only being an IceDog for a half season back in 2011-12, he managed to accumulate 21 points in 28 games as a big bodied Defenseman and potted 4 points in 20 games during Niagara's deep playoff run that season. Jamie also claimed a Bronze Medal for Canada in the 2012 World Junior Championships.
After being selected in the 1st round 14th overall by the Dallas Stars in the NHL Draft, Oleksiak went on to play 4 seasons as an up & down NHL/AHL Defenseman from 2012-16 with Dallas & their AHL Affiliate Texas Stars.
He was then traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins after playing 21 games for Dallas in the 2017-18 season, but oddly enough was traded back to the Dallas Stars for the exact same draft pick that he was originally traded for during the 2018-19, after 83 total games with the Penguins.
Photo Credit: Terry Wilson/OHL Images
Jamie has stayed with the Stars ever since & had his coming out party during the conclusion of the Return To Play format during the 2019-20 season where he set career highs in Goals with 5 & Points Per Game with 9 in only 27 games during the Dallas Stars run to the Cup Finals, where they eventually lost to Carter Verhaeghe's Tampa Bay Lightning.
Now a teammate of another IceDog on this list with rookie Jason Robertson, Oleksiak is in the final year of a
3-year $6.4 million dollar contract and will be looking to secure a long-term deal after another hopeful strong defensive season at age 28. As mentioned earlier, the Stars have yet to begin their season due to COVID-19 positive cases throughout their team.
When the season does get underway for Dallas, Oleksiak will be relied upon to eat up big minutes on the Penalty Kill as he usually does and will maybe try to show that his offensive output in the playoffs last year can translate to some momentum and confidence for more growth as far as point production. Most likely limited
ice-time on the Bottom-6 D-pair will be the only hinderance to that goal.
10. Dougie Hamilton RD - Carolina Hurricanes
Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images
Probably the most popular and well-known IceDogs Defenseman of all-time, Dougie Hamilton has definitely had a hockey journey that taken him to many different stops during his 27 years on this earth. The 27th overall pick by the Niagara IceDogs back in 2009, Hamilton went on to become one of the most successful career tenured IceDogs of all-time. Playing his entire 4 year OHL career in Niagara, Dougie accumulated 187 points in 213 games, including an incredible 40 points in 39 playoff games during 3 playoff runs over his career there.
Hamilton was also familiar with the Region previously, as he played 1 season for the St. Catharines Falcons U16 AAA team in 2008-09.
Dougie was drafted in the 1st round 9th overall by the Boston Bruins in the 2011 NHL Draft after a list of honours that season which included: a Bronze Medal for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships,
CHL Defenseman of the Year, OHL Most Outstanding Defenseman, OHL Most Points by a Defenseman,
& OHL First Team All-Star.
Hamilton went on to play 3 seasons for the Boston Bruins between 2012-15 before a shocking trade sent the young prized Defenseman to the Calgary Flames in a blockbuster deal. After 3 full seasons in Calgary where he only missed 1 game during that time and accumulated 137 points in 245 games, he was traded once again to the Carolina Hurricanes in another blockbuster trade which sent 2 former Top 5 Picks by the Canes in
Elias Lindholm & Noah Hanifin to Calgary.
Photo Credit: niagaraicedogs.net
Since the move to Carolina, it has seemed that Dougie has finally found a stable home as he was selected as an NHL All-Star for the 2019-20 season, in which he was unfortunately not able to participate in due to injury.
During his 2 seasons in Carolina, Dougie has come into his own with 79 points in 129 games and 9 points
in 20 playoff games.
Now into his 3rd season as a Hurricane, Hamilton so far has 1 assist in 2 games played while averaging 21:51 minutes of ice-time. He is also reportedly looking to sign an extension with the team, as he has 1 year remaining on his current deal that pays him $5.75 million dollars.
Dougie is currently slotted as Carolina's #1 Defenseman on the right side and is Quarterbacking their
1st Powerplay unit. It will be a another big year for the 27 year old who is now on his 3rd NHL team during his
9 year career. Hamilton will be looking to make an impact to earn himself that big payday & long-term deal to keep him in Carolina for the foreseeable future, hopefully not on his 4th NHL club when the negotiating
is all said and done.