As one of the OHL’s best rookie’s this past season, Cam Hillis is a prospect that is quietly moving up a lot of draft boards. The skilled forward improved immensely as his season progressed, helping him to become one of the best players for the Guelph Storm. He’s likely to be drafted in the second round of the 2018 NHL Entry draft, but Hillis is a player that could open a lot of eyes going forward.
As the 28th overall pick, in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection Draft, Hillis spent an extra year playing Prep hockey at St. Andrew’s College before making the jump to the OHL for the 2018-19 season. The wait was necessary for Hillis to grow - the skill was there, he was just far too small to play against guys 3 or 4 years older than him. With a little extra weight on his frame, Hillis was able to step in and make an immediate impact on a Storm team that needed an offensive boost.
Hillis is a possession monster that is going to be more of a playmaker at the next level than anything else. He has very good vision, and the ability to thread a pass through traffic, creating scoring opportunities for his linemates. His agility and shiftiness allows him to create space for himself while moving with the puck into the offensive zone. He can read the play well and is able to track the movements of not only the defenders, but of his teammates. The high-end vision and passing ability makes Hillis a very effective powerplay quarterback from the half-board.
While he does his best work with the puck, Hillis is able to disrupt the defense with a very strong forecheck. He puts pressure on opponents and will cause turnovers, not with an overly physical game, but with strong stick skills and anticipation.
As a by-product of this lack of size/strength, Hillis has below average velocity on his shot. He’s never going to be mistaken for a sniper, but this is a weakness that can easily be improved upon as he matures physically. Knowing that he doesn’t have one of the better shots on the team, Hillis doesn’t shoot the puck much - he ranks 34th among draft eligible OHL forwards in shots per game. Though he doesn’t shoot well, Hillis has tremendous hands that allow him to both work his way through congested areas and find loose pucks in traffic. As a result, the clear majority of Hillis’ goals came from in tight to the net.
His defensive game leaves something to be desired - as is the case with most of the prospects in Guelph. A lot of this stems from his lack of strength. He often gets out muscled by bigger opponent when trying to support down low. He can overcome this by learning to use the anticipation he shows at the offensive end. Better positioning and gap control - as well as an active stick - could go a long way in helping Hillis improve his game in the defensive zone.
Hillis plays a lot of center right now, and while he has the skills to control the puck down the middle, his size might ultimately force him to the wing in the same way it did for Mitch Marner and Clayton Keller. That said, even with the lack of strength, Hillis wins a lot of faceoffs and does well to support his teammates below the hash marks, so a little added muscle and it’s not a stretch to think that he can stick down the middle of the ice as a pro.
Hillis finished 7th in the OHL in points among draft eligible forwards. Beyond the raw totals, his primary assist rate trailed only consensus number two pick Andrei Svechnikov and Allen McShane of the Oshawa Generals. At nearly a point per game as a rookie, expect a big jump in production for Hillis next season.
From a defensive standpoint, Hillis had a +3.16 GF%rel, while matching up against some of the toughest opponents most nights. This shows that while Guelph struggled defensively, Hillis was one of their better players.
What the Scouts are Saying
Hillis improved his game immensely as the season progressed, to the point where he was the most reliable scorer on his team. He’s a good skater with a never-quit attitude, plus he’s capable of setting up quality scoring chances off of board battles. Hillis won over 50 percent of his draws and can run a power play as well. - The Draft Analyst
Smaller dynamic skilled player – first year in OHL and plays like a veteran – very quick and powerful stride with skater – good quickness and acceleration – uses his speed as an asset on the forecheck or when reacting to a loose puck – smart player with good vision and passing skills – plays in important situations including the power play and penalty kill – good compete and battle in all areas of the ice. - NHL Central Scouting
Hillis also is an extremely slick puck handler who creates time and space for himself in the offensive zone. Prolonging possession with his hands, he exploits gaps in the defense with good vision. He’s definitely a great playmaker. From what I understand, his skating has already improved a ton, but as an undersized center, it will need to continue to improve. Because of how skilled he is, having that extra gear would really help to give him more separation. This is especially true considering he currently lacks strength down low. The effort is always there, but he can be too easily separated from the puck in close quarters. At this point, he’s definitely better on the powerplay than he is 5 on 5 because of this. As he gets stronger, and quicker, he profiles as a very complete center who’s hustle and hockey IQ make him a potential 2nd/3rd line forward at the next level. Hopefully scouts don’t hold his poor performance at the U18’s against him. Seemed like he was just trying to do too much there and ended up being very penalty prone. His lack of elite skating ability also was evident. His performance in Russia wasn’t indicative of the player he’s capable of becoming. - Brock Otten, OHL Prospects
Where He’ll Be Drafted
Cam Hillis has the skill set to be a possession-driving top-6 forward in the NHL. Questions about his size and strength are bound to drop him down draft boards. He plays a lot like Clayton Keller, but isn’t quite as good a skater - something that will keep him out of the first round. It might take a while but it’s not a stretch to see Hillis as a second or third line center in the NHL one day.
Hillis will beg drafted in the later portion of the second round, and whoever grabs him will be very lucky for it.
Projection: 52nd Overall