When the Kingston Frontenacs walk up to the virtual podium on June 4 for the Ontario Hockey League’s 2021 Priority Selection first round, they will be picking in a familiar position. The Frontenacs were awarded the fifth overall pick following the first-ever OHL Priority Selection Lottery, giving them the same draft position as 2020.
While the team selected forward Paul Ludwinski last time out, it was not the first time that the Fronts had their choice at that spot. Lawson Crouse, now with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, heard his name called by the Fronts at the fifth spot in 2013; meanwhile, the Fronts selected former captain Cory Stillman at the pick in 1999.
With two successful players since the turn of the century, and a promising prospect in waiting, Kingston has reaped the benefits of the fifth overall pick. In 2021, with Head Coach and General Manager Paul McFarland making his first selections, the Fronts are primed to find a good player once again.
Although fans will have to wait until June 4 to find out the newest member of the ‘Fifth Pick Club,’ looking back at the past can provide an idea of the potential quality that could be coming to the Leon’s Centre in the next few seasons.
1999: CORY STILLMAN (283 OHL GP – 222 PTS)
The Frontenacs selected Cory Stillman with their first-round pick in the 1999 OHL Priority Selection after sneaking into the 1998-99 playoffs in the eighth seed, just two points ahead of the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors (Mississauga Steelheads). Although the Fronts snuck into the postseason, they fell in five games to the Barrie Colts.
However, with their first-round exit in ‘99 came the opportunity to select Stillman, who became a future captain.
Stillman caught Kingston’s eye with his play with the Lindsay Muskies, where the centreman scored 16 goals and 31 points in the OPJHL. His production before the OHL translated into significant progress with the Fronts, as he scored 23 points as a Frontenacs rookie before creasing 50 points in just his second season.
After a pair of 40+ point seasons, Stillman earned the captain’s role in Kingston in 2002-03 and brought the Fronts to within four points of the postseason. His play with the Fronts earned him a look from the New York Islanders, who selected him 101st overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
Although Stillman never played on Long Island, he went on to a six-year professional career, with stops across North American minor pro and in the German second division.
With leadership and offensive skills, Stillman was a successful pick for the Frontenacs and is still remembered for his physical play and leadership in black and gold.
2013: LAWSON CROUSE (168 OHL GP – 140 PTS)
Over a decade after Stillman arrived in Kingston, the Frontenacs selected Lawson Crouse with the fifth overall selection in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection. With Crouse, Kingston picked up a player that became a star from 2013-16 and established himself as one of the best offensive players in franchise history.
At the Leon’s Centre, fans got used to Crouse scoring goals in his rookie season, as the power-forward hit the back of the net 15 times in 2013-14. While that year showed what he was capable of, the Mount Brydges, Ontario native exploded in his next two seasons, scoring 51 points in 2014-15, only to top that with 62 points in 2015-16.
On top of his OHL accolades, Crouse garnered national attention as one of the top NHL prospects, earning call-ups to the Canadian U17, U18 and World Junior teams during his time in junior hockey. He won the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the World Juniors with Canada while also adding a U18 World Championship bronze medal.
“The Sheriff,” as he was known to his teammates, finished second in Frontenacs scoring in 2015-16, as the team featuring him, Warren Foegele, Jason Robertson, and others clinched the Eastern Conference before falling in the conference semifinal to Niagara. Paul McFarland coached Crouse in Kingston, so working with a fifth overall pick is something he has experience with heading into 2021-22.
With all his success in Kingston and on the international stage, the Florida Panthers selected Crouse 11th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The Panthers dealt Crouse to the Arizona Coyotes in 2016, where he eventually made his NHL debut and has played since his rookie season.
2020: PAUL LUDWINSKI (2020 PICK)
When the Frontenacs hit the ice in September for training camp, 2020’s fifth overall pick and 2021’s will likely be skating together. In July 2020, the Frontenacs selected Paul Ludwinski from the GTHL’s Toronto Marlboros.
For now though, a Frontenacs jersey hangs on his bedroom door, just hinting at what is to come in mere months. Throughout the past year, Ludwinski kept fit and prepared for a possible start, and despite the season’s cancellation, he feels he is in a better place than last year. “Seeing myself now compared to when the start day was supposed to be, I have grown so much. I feel so much better as a person and stronger as a player,” he said in January.
With the Marlboros in 2019-20, the Pickering, Ontario native scored 15 goals and 32 points in 31 games while also representing Canada at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Switzerland.
Anxiously awaiting his delayed Frontenacs debut, it will undoubtedly be exciting to see a now 17-year-old Ludwinski with the Frontenacs in the fall.
The 2021 OHL Priority Selection presented by Real Canadian Superstore will take place virtually on June 4-5, with the opening three rounds on June 4. The drafts will resume on June 5 with Rounds 4-15. The Priority Selection will be streamed live in its entirety on the OHL’s YouTube channel.
The Priority Selection remains its customary 15 rounds in length, but unlike past years, it will be held in a serpentine arrangement, with the order of selection in the first round being reversed to begin Round 2 and alternating each round after that.