Plenty of players who go undrafted have ended up with lengthy careers in professional hockey. For a player that wasn’t drafted to the Ontario Hockey League, former Mississauga Reps forward Anthony Cirelli has helped re-write the book on undrafted players. In 2014, few would have guessed that the Oshawa Generals walk-on would be a crucial piece for the contending team.
The Erie Otters, who currently sit on top of the OHL’s Western Conference, paid a hefty price at the trade deadline to acquire Cirelli in what could be his final junior hockey season. Erie parted with five future draft picks, and their 2016 first round draft choice, 19th overall, Allan McShane, to get the Woodbridge Ontario native. By comparison, when former Generals captain John Tavares was traded to the London Knights in 2009, it involved two teammates and saw three players, along with six draft picks, traded to the Generals. Tavares and the Knights were ultimately unsuccessful in their pursuit of the Memorial Cup.
However, unlike Tavares who was granted exceptional player status, Cirelli was passed over twice in the OHL draft. His invitation to the Generals training camp was a result of a scout’s insistence based on his superior work ethic. The world would get their first introduction to Cirelli during the 2015 Memorial Cup final. As a rookie, Cirelli scored both of Oshawa’s goals, including the overtime winner, giving the franchise their first national title since 1990. His rookie season performance, combined with his big game heroics, prompted the Tampa Bay Lightning to draft him 72nd overall in the third round of the 2015 NHL draft.
This past holiday season, Cirelli was once again in the national spotlight, this time as a member of Canada’s National Junior Team. Cirelli helped lead Canada to a silver medal, scoring three goals and tallying four assists in seven tournament games. Almost immediately after returning to the Generals, Cirelli was dealt to the Championship hungry Erie Otters.
“He’s a great player and really valuable for our team,” said Otters captain Dylan Strome, who played alongside Cirelli on the national junior squad. ““We wanted to get him, obviously. You know, the rumours start swirling. We were happy to get him and we’re happy to have him. Hopefully he can help us out in the playoffs.”
The last few months have been a whirlwind for Cirelli, who has been traveling almost non-stop since mid-December.
“Heading back to Oshawa and getting traded to Erie, its been a long couple of months, but it’s turned out for the best. The guys are great the fans are unbelievable. Playing with guys like Strome, [Alex] DeBrincat, [and Taylor] Raddysh. Guys with top skill, it’s fun to watch them.”
Now playing far away from the comforts of the GTA, Cirelli relishes the chance to be close to home. On a Friday night in February, the Lightning draft pick helped the Otters to a 4-1 win against the hometown Mississauga Steelheads.
“It’s great to be back always. I’ve got a lot of friends and family here in these hometown games so it’s been a lot of fun,” said Circelli. “I grew up playing around here playing at this rink (Hershey Centre), it’s been a pretty cool feeling and it’s always a lot of fun.”