The Mississauga Steelheads have been one of the most surprising teams in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Among the breakout players include Luca Del Bel Belluz, an 18-year-old center from Woodbridge, Ontario. At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, many questioned whether he could handle first-line center capabilities. The answer is apparent after producing 61 points in 48 games, as he’s become a premier player with a high upside.
Diving deeper into the numbers and footage, it’s clear that Del Bel Belluz is one of the few players that benefited from the OHL’s canceled season in 2020-21. The extended break allowed him to work on all facets of his game, with his front-line skating having improved tremendously since his rookie season. He is ranked 11th in the final North American Central Scouting draft list.
By The Numbers: He’s A First-Round Talent
His offensive performance is one of the primary reasons the Steelheads are currently ranked first in the OHL standings. With a minimum of 20 games played, Del Bel Belluz ranks 19th in the league with 1.27 points per game. That number is 13 times greater than his rookie season when he produced just six points in 58 games.
Hardie and Del Bel Belluz have been linemates the entire season. Hardie has taken 195 shots to start the season, ranking second in the league. With 30 goals in 48 games, Del Bel Belluz has earned an assist on 15 of them, whether it’s at 5v5, or paired together on the first power-play unit.
Del Bel Belluz has also been able to elevate the third member of the line, whether it’s Ty Collins or recently acquired Jake Uberti. Collins, a 19-year-old undrafted prospect playing in his overage season, is having a career season. According to EliteProspects, he is projected to score 19 goals and 42 points throughout a 64-game season. His role on the line has been to win puck battles along the boards, and get to the open areas for Del Bel Belluz and Hardie to feed him the puck.
Uberti provides more versatility in the role, and a higher offensive ceiling on Mississauga’s first line. Before the trade that sent him to the Steelheads in December, he was the first-line center on the Niagara IceDogs. He can also play as a winger, and played on the team’s first and third lines in that position. He and Del Bel Belluz have only played a handful of minutes together, but they have formed a connection on the power-play, doing just that back on January 9th against the Peterborough Petes.
Diving deeper into the numbers, let’s take a look at how Del Bel Belluz’s production ranks historically among recently drafted prospects. He outranks the following centers in their OHL draft year by using the last 10 NHL Drafts as a sample, excluding 2021 because of the canceled OHL season; Washington Capitals 2019 first-round pick Connor McMichael, Carolina Hurricanes 2019 first-round pick Ryan Suzuki, and Columbus Blue Jackets 2018 first-round pick Liam Foudy.
Specific drafts were more profound than others, with Del Bel Belluz’s production not exceeding any OHL centermen taken in the 2020 NHL Draft. That’s why he is comparable to a late first-round selection, or potentially an early second-rounder, where he is projected to be selected in six months time.
Scouting Report: A Two-Way Centre With Average Skating Abilities
Del Bel Belluz still has some technical issues regarding his skating stride, but his improvement in that area cannot be understated. His four-way agility and quickness of pivots are even better than the beginning of this season. Brock Otten of McKeen’s Hockey pointed this out during a Steelheads game against the Peterborough Petes.
Looking at the game tape, there are some instances where this improvement can be shown. Back on October 9th, 2021, Del Bel Belluz showcased his explosive skating and puck handling skills on this goal against the Kingston Frontenacs. Starting at his blue line, he notices the open lane up the middle and makes two quick crossovers to generate momentum, and deceptively skates past the neutral zone. Maddox Callens doesn’t see this transition play and cannot catch him, and then Del Bel Belluz enters the offensive zone with purpose. He glides towards Frontenacs defender Thomas Budnick and makes a deke around him by moving the puck from his backhand to forehand. After creating the space, he uses his six-foot-one frame to gain inside positioning, and instead of firing the low percentage shot, he notices there’s space to make a wrap-around attempt. He glides towards the end of the net, pulls the puck back one more time and gains total momentum, and jams the puck on the other side past goaltender Leevi Merilainen.
The Hockey News’ Steven Ellis commented on Del Bel Belluz, a prospect he’s been scouting since his playing days with the Toronto Red Wings in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL). I got to see him at the PEP Showcase in 2019, and he matched up very well against Shane Wright, getting in his way and in his head. One of the biggest draft risers this season, Del Bel Belluz’s offence has been a big talking point. He’s got a quick release and does an excellent job of drawing defenders out of scoring positions. It’s a shame he didn’t get a 2020-21 season because we could have seen more improvement in his defensive game, mainly how he attacks plays with the puck. Still, there’s an opportunity for him to become an excellent secondary scoring option for an NHL team going forward.
A solid playoff run for the Steelheads could raise his draft status even more, so we will be keeping an eye on the big centreman as the season progresses.