In a draft full of mystery, Saginaw Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill went with the sure talent.
And someone who actually played last season.
With the 15th pick in the Ontario Hockey League draft Friday, the Spirit took forward Luke McNamara, a 6-foot-3, 170-pound “transplant” from Mississauga, Ontario.
Because the Ontario junior leagues did not play during the 2020-21 season, OHL teams were left to rely on year-old scouting reports and videos for many of their selections.
Drinkill, however, was able to watch McNamara play, thanks to the 16-year-old’s decision to move to the United States and play for Bishop Kearney, a prep school in Rochester, New York.
“We got a chance to watch him live, which was unique,” Drinkill said. “We’ve followed him all year. A lot of Ontario players, we couldn’t watch live that much. It’s a long wait to pick 15. We didn’t know what was going to happen before us. To be honest, if we were picking higher, we would have taken him too.
“The way he skates with his size is really hard to find. Most big guys are a little bit of a clunky skater. They need to work on their edges. He’s already got that part of the game figured out. When he steps onto the ice, it’s pretty dynamic right away for a big body.”
In 2019-20 for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens U15 team, McNamara scored 13 goals with 16 assists in 31 games. Last season for Bishop Kearney, McNamara scored 20 goals with 25 assists.
“He’s grown a lot,” Drinkill said. “He definitely fits into our system, what we’re trying to do. He has all the skills to be a pro. He’s very driven. He eats and breathes it.”
The decision to move to New York was not an easy one for McNamara, but he’s happy with the choice.
“For me, with no hockey happening in Ontario, I just knew that development-wise and playing games, going to BK was the right decision for me as a player,” McNamara said. “I learned a lot. I learned how to cope on my own, be an adult for what the next level was going to be like. I was so fortunate I got the opportunity to play games this year. A lot of kids in Ontario ended up not playing.”
Some scouting reports predicted that McNamara could go in the top five picks, but he lasted until No. 15.
“I wasn’t disappointed … Saginaw was our No. 1 choice from the start,” McNamara said. “Saginaw’s program is second to none. It was the right fit for me as a player. It’s very surreal. When we spoke to them, my family and I, you could just tell it was such a hockey market. The players that have gone through there … they’ve done so well with their players, getting them to the next level.”
In the second round, the Spirit added Olivier Savard, a 6-foot-1, 176-pound defenseman from Joliette, Quebec. In the 2019-20 season, Savard scored five goals with 12 assists in 33 games for the Mississauga Reps U15 team. He was scheduled to play for the Toronto Nationals in the 2020-21 season before it was canceled.
“His puck skills for a D man are phenomenal,” Drinkill said. “He loves to get up the ice. A right shot D is nice, because we don’t have really any right-shot D signed with us right now. We feel he can be a power-play quarterback one day as well.
“If you want to have the high-end skill and have Luke play the way Luke’s going to play for us, he needs to get the puck on his stick in the right opportunities with speed, cutting through the ice and being able to play an O zone possession-type of game we want to play. Olivier fits into that style. We had him much higher in the draft as well. For us to get him at 29, similar to Luke, those were two guys we had much higher.”
And both are committed to play for Saginaw.
“It’s nice to have a player who wants to be here right away,” Drinkill said. “Luke and his family educated themselves about us. (Savard) wants to be in Saginaw too.”
The OHL draft continues Saturday with Rounds 4-15, starting at 9 a.m.