Lincs’ two 16-year-olds are fifth-round OHL picks with great skills and high hockey IQs
By Pat Payton
Ontario Hockey League teams continue to send good young prospects to the St. Marys Lincolns.
A season with the Lincs is often a stepping stone to Major Jr. ‘A’ hockey.
Two of those players on the Lincolns’ 2021-22 roster are Noah Vandenbrink and Kyle Morey, and the highly-skilled 16-year-old forwards will certainly play key roles this season. Both were fifth-round picks in the OHL entry draft last June — Vandenbrink to the Hamilton Bulldogs and Morey to the Owen Sound Attack. Vandenbrink was the 83rd player selected and Morey the 87th prospect chosen.
Vandenbrink hails from Belmont and the winger caught the attention of scouts while a member of the Elgin-Middlesex ‘AAA’ Chiefs. Morey, from Kitchener, played in the Jr. Rangers ‘AAA’ system and the centreman was captain of his minor hockey teams the last three seasons.
Great hockey instincts
“I think both kids are cut from the same cloth,” St. Marys’ Director of Hockey Operations/GM Greg Smale told the Independent in a recent interview. “They are good offensive players, with great offensive instincts, but they also have great overall hockey instincts. They are both capable of playing a 200-foot game.
“When you get drafted that high, and you’re that highly regarded, both are obviously good potential (Major Jr. ‘A’) prospects. We’re excited to have both players here.”
Smale says Morey and Vandenbrink have high hockey IQs.
“Kyle is a real thinker; he’s a strategic player who sees the ice very well. Noah’s speed and shot kind of separates him from other kids his age. They both bring a little bit of everything to the game.”
Vandenbrink and Morey handle and pass the puck extremely well, and both will see plenty of minutes on Lincs’ powerplays this season. Vandenbrink collected five points (2-3) and Morey three (1-2) during Lincolns’ exhibition schedule. They’re also playing on the same line, with veteran Cole Schnittker.
“It kind of shows what we’re doing here with our program,” Smale added. “We play our young players and give them expanded roles on the team. They don’t just sit on the bench. We bring young players in and we play them.”
The GM thinks both players can make the jump to the OHL next season.
“A lot depends on the teams they’re drafted to,” he said. “I can’t speak to the depth of Hamilton or Owen Sound, but I know these kids are great prospects and I do hope they get to that next level.”
The goal to play Major Jr. ‘A’
For both Morey and Vandenbrink, they say that’s the goal — to make it to the OHL and play Major Jr. ‘A’ hockey.
“It was a great experience attending the Owen Sound camp this year, playing with guys like Mark Woolly and Deni Goure,” Morey said. “It shows you what you have to work on to get to that next level.
“I need to work on my strength and skating. I need to get to the gym more and get stronger, which will help my skating and improve my speed. (The Attack) really likes St. Marys as a good place to develop for a year, and considering I do well here this season I think they would like me in Owen Sound next year.”
Morey describes himself as a “two-way” player, who can also score and set up his teammates. But he hasn’t set any personal goals for the season ahead.
“I don’t think too much about numbers (goals and assists); I just intend to play my game every night and whatever happens, happens,” Morey says. “I’ve enjoyed my experience here in St. Marys; the guys have treated me well, especially being just 16. It’s been a good experience for sure.”
Takes pride in defensive play, too
Vandenbrink also wants to develop as a player and improve so he can make the next step to the OHL next season.
“For me, it’s all about getting better and preparing myself for the next level,” he said. “In the long run, it’s what I want to do and I feel I have the ability to get to that next level. St. Marys is the place right now to best prepare me for that journey. (Bulldogs) told me to come here and take on a big role and get ready for next year.
“I need to get used to the faster pace of Junior hockey and playing against older guys. I want to improve all-around as a player. Hamilton sees me fitting into their line-up next year. I’m at this level at this age because of what I can do with the puck and create offence.”
While Vandenbrink sees himself as an “offensive player,” he also takes a lot of pride playing good defensively.
“I’m an energy guy who plays with a lot of pace and skill on the offensive side, but I also want to be consistent on defence and be reliable enough for the coach to put me in any situation and contribute,” he said.
“I want to develop all areas of my game to be even more dangerous. You have to play defence to be able to play offence. I want to contribute anyway possible to get a win; that’s who I am as a player.”
–Morey’s favourite NHL player is Mitch Marner of the Maple Leafs. “He’s a little guy and he’s just so crafty. He’s so good with the puck; it’s just fun to watch.” Toronto is also his favourite team.
–Vandenbrink’s favourite NHL player is Boston centre Patrice Bergeron. “I’ve always been a Bruins’ fan growing up and he’s always been my favourite player.”