2013 Draft Eligibles: Owen Sound’s Three-man Attack

Two years ago the Owen Sound Attack were the class of the Ontario Hockey League. It was the first time in franchise history that Owen Sound represented the OHL at the Memorial Cup. The Attack took down the two-time defending league champion Windsor Spitfires in the Western Conference Final, then defeated the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors in the OHL Final. Mississauga would eventually outlast Owen Sound, making it to the Memorial Cup Final, but that doesn’t diminish the season culminated by the Attack.

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Cameron Brace remembers that season. The 2010-11 campaign was Brace’s draft-eligible year and his first full one with the Attack. Still undrafted but finally earning recognition for his efforts, Brace is listed as the 144th North American skater in the CSS final 2013 rankings.

Unlike Brace, Chris Bigras and Zach Nastasiuk did not get the opportunity to celebrate with the OHL championship team. Brace’s future teammates were already building their chemistry playing for the Barrie Colts minor midget AAA team.

Bigras captained the Colts, scoring seven goals and assisting on 25 more in 43 games. The steady blueliner doesn’t possess the offensive flash that some draft-eligible defenseman display, but he is one of the most well-rounded players in this year’s class. Bigras led the Colts to the OHL Cup, where he added two assists in three games. Following the season, the 6’0” 186-pound defenseman was selected 41st overall by Owen Sound in the 2011 OHL Priority Draft.

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Born and raised in Barrie, Ontario, Zach Nastasiuk grew up in an athletic family. Much like Darnell Nurse, Nastasiuk’s father, Paul, played in the Canadian Football League. Paul Nastasiuk is a member of the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame, leaving big shoes for Zach to fill. The right winger, built like a football player, plays with the genetic athleticism and tenacity pasted down from his father. He led the Colts with 17 goals and 40 points in 41 games not including a goal and an assist in three OHL Cup games. He was also able to top his captain by earning the first round selection of Owen Sound 20th overall in the 2011 OHL Priority Draft.

Following the successful 2010-11 season, Owen Sound went back to work to defend its title. Although the overall team success didn’t match the previous seasons, the Attack still made the playoffs and found two budding talents in Bigras and Nastasiuk. The latter was one of just five players on the team to play in all 68 regular season games. Playing at just 16-years-old Nastasiuk finished with 11 goals and eight assists with a minus-10 rating. He improved his plus/minus in the playoffs, finishing with a goal and a plus-three rating in a five-game series loss to the Kitchener Rangers.

Bigras didn’t play as often as Nastasiuk, participating in 49 games, but made a bigger impact on the team. The rookie emerged as one of the most balanced, responsible players on the Attack, which allowed the team to move two veteran defensemen at the trade deadline. Geoffrey Schemitsch and Matt Petgrave, who were important members of the OHL champion team a year previous, were traded to the Oshawa Generals for Kyle Hope and two second round draft picks. With more ice time opening up for the Attack, Bigras found himself to be the benefactor.

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The Elmvale, Ontario native finished the season with three goals, 16 assists and a plus-seven rating. His play got better as the year went on, which was put on display in the first round playoff series versus Kitchener. The left-handed shot added two goals and three assists as well as a plus-five rating. Bigras received additional playing time with Canada Ontario at the Under-17 World Hockey Championships, earning a bronze medal.

Not to be lost in the mix is the diminutive winger Cameron Brace. After going undrafted in his first draft-eligible year, the 5’9” 157-pound forward returned to Owen Sound determined to prove NHL scouts wrong. Brace finished with 29 goals and 56 points while playing in all 68 regular season games. He worked on his two-way game and defensive zone coverage more last season showing in his plus-19 rating, which was a 20-point improvement from the championship season. The tenacious Brace added 60 penalty minutes in the regular season and 15 more in the playoffs.

This season the trio returned to Owen Sound giving the Attack one of the top teams in the OHL. Throw in the goaltending of the former CHL Memorial Cup Most Outstanding Goaltender, Jordan Binnington (STL 88th overall ’11) and Owen Sound produced the best defense in the league. The Attack finished with a league-low 165-goals-against and the third-best record in the OHL.

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Brace was named an assistant captain after going undrafted for the second-straight year and finally garnered the attention he deserves. He finished with a career-high 35 goals, 74 points, a plus-32 rating and 74 penalty minutes in 66 regular season games. Brace is a superb penalty killer with the threat of scoring short-handed. As a matter of fact, he led the league in short-handed goals the last two years. He has a sharp wrist shot to go with his blazing speed and ferocious attitude.

Nastasiuk played in 62 regular season games this year, posting his first 20-20 campaign, and improving his plus/minus by 31 from 2011-12. His two-way game was a key cog in the defensive-minded Attack and earned him valuable ice time against the OHL’s best. Nastasiuk led the Attack in scoring in the playoffs, finishing with four goals and 11 points in 12 games.

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Bigras continued his development, showing a tremendous increase in his two-way game starting in his own zone. He finished with the second-best plus/minus on the team with a plus-35 rating. He doubled his point outpoint, finishing with eight goals and 38 points, while playing in all 68 regular season games. After the Attack were eliminated from the OHL playoffs Bigras and Nastasiuk played in the 2013 U18 WJC for Team Canada. Nastasiuk scored two goals with two assists and a plus-four rating for the gold-medal winning squad. Bigras pitched in three assists and a plus-eight rating for the Canadians. The longtime teammates found themselves on opposite teams for the first time when each suited up in the CHL Top Prospects Game.

In the CSS final 2013 rankings, Zach Nastasiuk was ranked 12th among North American skaters and his teammate Chris Bigras was right behind him at 13th among North American skaters.