By the time the Barrie Colts called out Lucas Chiodo’s name in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection, most teams had already left the league-wide conference call. He was taken with the 293rd overall pick, with just seven picks remaining in the 15-round draft. This late in a draft the names called are not only considered serious long shots but, at times, done as a friendly gesture to grab a local kid or someone whose family is known to the organization.
None of that applied to Chiodo.
Colts scouts had watched the Barrie Colts minor midget triple-A forward play numerous times in their own backyard and were well aware of his playmaking ability and the high level of skill he displayed on the ice. At just five-foot-two and 135-pounds, the Churchill native was deemed by many teams too small to survive in a league where a good deal of the players tower over the six-foot mark.
Boy, were they ever wrong.
Now in his overage season, Chiodo hasn’t just survived his four years in the OHL, he’s developed into one of its top offensive stars. Coming off a year where he finished among the top 20 in league scoring with 79 points (30 goals and 49 assists), the diminutive winger is off to another strong start this season. Chiodo, who sits ninth overall in scoring, is on pace to hit the 100-point mark with seven goals and eight helpers in 10 games.
His ability to create open space in tight spots and find his teammates is impressive. When it comes to creating offence, head coach Dale Hawerchuk believes Chiodo is right up there with the best to ever to don a Barrie Colts jersey.
“He’s just one of those guys that has that knack for offence,” said Hawerchuk, a Hockey Hall of Famer who knows a thing or two about putting up points having posted 1409 career points and sits 20th overall among the all-time NHL scoring leaders. “He’s one of the guys that just has the knack. He can create, he can score. Sometimes those things are hard to teach people, but he’s always had that.”
Chiodo has pretty much put to rest any doubt about his size at the major junior level. He’s worked hard to build up his strength through his junior career and he’s far from the player that got pushed off pucks in the corner early in his rookie season. The doubters have only added fuel to his fire. Chiodo dreams of playing pro hockey and is determined to do all he can to get there.
The soft-spoken winger, who turns 20 this Halloween, relishes the bigger role he’s been asked to play with Barrie this season and is thankful the club has given him the chance to showcase his skills.
“It’s my last year in the OHL and obviously every kid that plays hockey, they want to go to the NHL,” said the five-foot-six, 172-pound forward. “That’s been a dream of mine every since I was a little kid. I have a real good opportunity here in Barrie. I’m playing a lot of minutes and I’m just fortunate for that.”
With departure of Aaron Luchuk, Dmitry Sokolov, Andrei Svechnikov and Zach Magwood to the pro ranks, Chiodo is the only returnee among Barrie’s top five scorers from last season. He is more than willing to help shoulder the load and he’s shown that early this season.
“Obviously losing our top line (Luchuk, Sokolov and Svechnikov) is a big loss and I feel a lot of pressure to make up for that, but I’m just trying to do the little things here and help the team win,” he said.
Chiodo started the year on a line with Buffalo Sabres prospect Matej Pekar and top NHL draft prospect Ryan Suzuki at centre. The chemistry between the three creative, hard working forwards didn’t take long to jell and, together, they have combined for 17 goals and 44 points in just 10 games. On a Colts team that had some questions surrounding offence coming into this season, they have been the driving force.
“It’s a good opportunity for not only Lucas but the other guys too,” Hawerchuk said of the added responsibility and expectations. “I think (the scoring) needs to be by committee certain nights but, for those guys, they’re getting confidence. They’re a dangerous line, that’s for sure. It’s a short honeymoon so far. You’ve got to stand the test of time.”
Being on the same page offensively, says Chiodo, has made it easier for the line to click.
“Our games really complement each other,” he said. “We’re all heads up, looking to move the puck quick. We all got pretty good skill and can capitalize on our chances.”
Looking to spread out his attack, Hawerchuk has moved Pekar down to the second line while Ben Hawerchuk has taken his place with Suzuki and Chiodo. The new line hasn’t missed a beat and Hawerchuk, who has five goals, is well on pace to break his career high of 15 set two seasons ago. Regardless of who his linemates are, Chiodo continues to work and develop his game.
Not a lot of 15th-round picks get to an overage season, let alone play an OHL game. Chiodo isn’t sure what comes next season, but he’s shown all he needs is an opportunity. The Colts gave him one late in the 2014 draft and he’s been running with it ever since.
ICE CHIPS: After opening a busy weekend with a 7-2 drubbing in Niagara on Oct. 11, the Colts rebounded with a 4-1 win in Sudbury the next night and a 6-5 overtime win back on home ice against Niagara. Justin Murray scored twice in the overtime win over the IceDogs, including the game winner. . . Ryan Suzuki left Saturday’s game in the second period and returned to start the third only to leave for good after being dumped again. The top-rated NHL prospect is listed as day-to-day and is questionable for a weekend road swing that starts Oct. 18 in Windsor.
Photo: Lucas Chiodo may have been a late pick in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection, but he’s developed into one of the OHL’s top offensive players. Terry Wilson/OHL Images photo