Meet Michael Misa, the OHL's newest exceptional player

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Michael Misa of the Mississauga Senators U16 AAA team was granted exceptional status by the OHL on Thursday. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Michael Misa of the Mississauga Senators U16 AAA team was granted exceptional status by the OHL on Thursday. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

In Ontario Hockey League history, only five players had been granted “exceptional status” to join the league a season early. That list includes forwards John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid, Sean Day and probable first overall pick for this year’s NHL draft, Shane Wright. On Thursday, a new name was added to this list with the OHL granting Oakville, Ont.’s, Michael Misa exceptional status.

A gifted skater and offensive talent, Misa caught the eyes of the world at the recent OHL Cup, an annual tournament for the best Under 16 players eligible for the OHL draft, and representing leagues across Ontario. At this tournament, Misa not only led his Mississauga Senators to a championship, but he also broke a pretty impressive record along the way.

Misa, who was born in 2007 and competing among players born in 2006, scored 20 points in only seven games. His total was one point better than the previous record set by NHL superstar Connor McDavid in 2012. Misa also became only the third underage player in tournament history to win the Tim Adams Memorial Trophy as the OHL Cup MVP, following McDavid and Wright, who took the honour in 2019.

“All of those superstars, those are guys I model my game after,” Misa sais following the OHL Cup when asked about joining such an elite group. “They push me to get better and I want to be like them in the future.”

In the championship game against the Toronto Jr. Canadiens, Misa scored a hat trick and added two assists in Mississauga’s 6-2 win. Both teams play in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL).

“I’m so proud of him, he deserves it and all the praise he is getting,” Misa’s Mississauga linemate Malcolm Spence said via phone. Spence was named the GTHL’s Player of the Year, an honour won by several future NHL first-round picks including McDavid, Wright, Dylan Strome, and Jamie Drysdale. Prior to Misa being granted exceptional status, Spence had been the odds on favourite to be selected first overall in the OHL draft. Now, he’ll likely see his former teammate chosen first.

“I’ve known for a while that he can really play at that level, and he showed it, especially when we needed it in the OHL Cup,” said Spence. “He’s a star and is someone that you should aspire to play like someday if you’re a young kid.”

According to Misa’s Mississauga Senators head coach Chris Stevenson, he’s an elite talent who loves the game and thrives on competition.

“Michael is an elite playmaker, who also has the ability to score goals in many different ways,” Stevenson said via phone. “Michael has a very high compete level, doesn’t shy away from physicality and plays in all situations.”

Misa was not the only player to apply for exceptional status this season. His Mississauga Senators teammate William Moore and London Jr. Knights player Ryan Roorbroeck also applied, but were not granted “status.” The process of granting this label, however, is not an exact science.

In 2016, Jack Hughes applied for exceptional status while playing for the GTHL’s Mississauga Rebels. He did not receive the exemption to enter the OHL early. Rather, Hughes returned to U16 hockey and later joined the U.S. National Team Development Program before becoming the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Currently, Hughes is one of the NHL’s brightest young stars playing for the New Jersey Devils.

Conversely, Day, one of only two defenders to earn the status alongside Ekblad, has failed to reach the level attached to the label. Day bounced between the AHL and ECHL before finally making his NHL debut this season, albeit a brief call up before returning to the AHL's Syracuse Crunch.

The most recent player granted exceptional status came from the WHL, another subsidiary league of the CHL alongside the OHL. That player was Connor Bedard, who is the top prospect for the 2023 NHL Draft. Bedard, who plays for the WHL’s Regina Pats, has lived up to expectations, scoring 50 goals as a 16-year-old rookie.

To be fair, despite breaking McDavid’s record, Misa is not in the same category as the perennial Art Ross and Hart Trophy contender. His talent, however, is undeniable. Now that his “exceptional” status is solidified, he’ll have the OHL draft on April 29 to look forward to, followed by three seasons in the OHL before he gains a new status, that of an NHL draft pick in 2025.

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