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Saginaw Spirit 2024 NHL Draft Primer: The Year of Zayne Parekh

June 27, 2024 - Ontario Hockey League (OHL)
Saginaw Spirit News Release

Las Vegas, Nev. - Only one more sleep remains until the 2024 NHL Entry Draft and a long-anticipated question is answered; which NHL team will land Spirit defenseman Zayne Parekh? Officially listed as the fifth-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, Parekh has the potential to become the highest drafted player to come out of the Saginaw Spirit program. In addition to Parekh, the Spirit hold numerous players that could turn out to be late-round gems for an NHL club.

First-year draft eligibles:

D - Zayne Parekh (#5 North American Skater ranked by NHL Central Scouting)

F - Kristian Epperson (#201 North American Skater ranked by NHL Central Scouting)

F - Liam Storch

F - Lincoln Moore

G - Kaleb Papineau

Second-year draft eligibles:

D - Will Bishop

D - PJ Forgione

D - James Guo

F - Sebastien Gervais

F - Nick Sima

F - Calem Mangone

In a draft class that has already been marked as one of the most defenseman-rich in years, Zayne Parekh stands out among the rest. Parekh's unique tool kit, vision, and production have drawn comparisons to world-class NHL defenders like Quinn Hughes (VAN), Cale Makar (COL), and Erik Karlsson (PIT).

"That's the type of player that Zayne is," said Craig Button, TSN's Director of Scouting. "He's got great confidence, the poise with the puck, he never ever telegraphs what he's going to do. He waits to see what's going to be available for him. Not only can he score, but he's really rounded out his game in terms of playmaking."

The 2023-24 season was one with lofty expectations for Parekh and the Spirit from the jump. A potential top-10 pick playing for the Memorial Cup hosts, the spotlight was directly on Parekh from the moment the puck dropped in Kitchener on September 29th, 2023. Ever calm and confident, Parekh handled the pressure in stride and turned his draft year into a masterpiece. The highest scoring OHL defenseman in over a decade, Parekh piled Spirit records on his way to becoming the team's first-ever recipient of the Max Kaminsky Trophy (OHL Defenseman of the Year). His 33 goals, 63 assists and 96 points were each the most ever by a Spirit defenseman in one season. That production also made him the highest scoring defenseman in the CHL by 21 points, outscoring Moose Jaw captain and Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder Denton Mateychuk (75 points).

On the afternoon of June 1st, Parekh became the first Saginaw player to be named the CHL defenseman of the year, edging out Mateychuk (WHL) and Vsevolod Komarov of the Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL). He was in the midst of another stellar performance on a grand stage, pushing the pace at the 2024 Memorial Cup presented by Dow. Parekh notched a goal in the tournament opener against Moose Jaw, added four assists, and hoisted Saginaw's first Memorial Cup as a point-per-game player (5P, 5GP).

The two highest selections in Spirit history both came in the last four years and both at tenth overall. Cole Perfetti, fresh off the highest scoring season in Spirit history with 111pts in 2019-20, was taken tenth overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 2020. Two years later, the Anaheim Ducks selected defenseman Pavel Mintyukov at the same position in (insert 2022 draft city). Mintyukov found himself paired with a rookie defenseman from Nobleton, Ont. that fall. Though they spent less than 40 games together, Mintyukov and Parekh helped push Saginaw to the top of the Western Conference by Christmas. Mintyukov would go on to claim the Max Kaminsky Trophy as a member of the Ottawa 67's, and Parekh followed a year later with Saginaw.

His 96-point season is the fourth-highest in team history. Where he winds up on the evening of June 28th could further cement him in the class of Perfetti and Mintyukov, or potentially a new high-water mark for Saginaw at the NHL Draft.

Among the remaining first-year draft eligibles for Saginaw, it's a game of wait-and-see. Just days into his tenure with the Saginaw Spirit, recently acquired winger Kristian Epperson sits at #201 on NHL Central Scouting's list of North American Skaters. This season, Epperson split time between the USNTDP Juniors, U17, and U18 squads of the U.S. National Team Development Program. He competed in 88 games across the board and registered 34 points (13G, 21A). He's proven himself on the international stage, registering five points (3G, 2A) in six games at the 2022 U17 World Hockey Challenge and winning gold.

Liam Storch and Lincoln Moore took on elevated roles with the Spirit in their second OHL seasons, but would likely need a larger body of work to show NHL scouts. The same can be said for '06-born goaltender Kaleb Papineau, who backed up Nolan Lalonde in the postseason, but has yet to make his OHL debut.

Of the second-year draft eligibles, the Spirit offer a wealth of players who took their game to the next level in 2023-24. Will Bishop played top-4 minutes in a shutdown role in Saginaw's trip to the Western Conference Final and Memorial Cup. His 6'6", 200+ lbs frame as a right-shot defenseman offers an intriguing option for NHL scouts.

Sebastien Gervais has been a pillar of consistency in his Spirit career, missing just two regular season games in three seasons (202GP). He upped his production in 2023-24 supplying 34 points (12G, 22A) from the bottom-six of an incredibly deep team. His finest performance came in the 4th-line takeover of the Memorial Cup Semi-Final against Moose Jaw. He, Ethan Hay, and Lincoln Moore combined for ten points in a 7-1 march to the Final.

Nick Sima pushed the envelope in big games with Saginaw during his first full season with the team. Two monster goals in the Memorial Cup followed a tenacious postseason. Sima's drive was on full display in each of his 81 total games in 2023-24. He appeared on NHL Central Scouting's watch list in 2023 and attended Detroit Red Wings development camp last summer.

Calem Mangone may be the most intriguing of Saginaw's second-year draft eligibles. A late-birthday '04, he's set to become and overage player in Saginaw next season. He put together an eyebrow-raising 63 points (22G, 41A) in 62 games this season. When he crossed the 111 career-point mark, he became the highest-scoring U18 draftee in OHL history. Mangone currently sits at 144 points in 176 OHL games.

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