Stalwart of Hamilton Bulldogs’ OHL title team inks NHL contract


Published March 3, 2023 at 11:15 am

Hamilton Bulldogs alumnus Gavin White. (OHL Images)

Gavin White, now with the Peterborough Petes, is the latest second-chance defenceman to earn a shot at the big league after growing his game with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

On Thursday, the 20-year-old White signed a National Hockey League entry-level contract with an average annual value of US$950,000 with the Dallas Stars. Signing with the Stars signifies the progress made by the right-shot rearguard whom the Bulldogs added through the Ontario league (OHL) under-18 draft in 2019, rather than through the priority selection draft. The deal likely means the 6-foot-1, 193-pound White will move into Dallas’ farm system next season, possibly with their American league (AHL) farm team.

White, due to rookie-season injuries and COVID-19 health protections that led to the OHL pausing competition, played in only 25 OHL games prior to the start of last season. However, he helped last season’s iteration of the Bulldogs win the Ontario league (OHL) championship, allow the fewest goals in the league, and reach the final of the season-ending Memorial Cup tournament. His progress convinced Dallas to acquire him as a late fourth-round choice in the 2022 NHL draft.

The retooling Bulldogs moved White and goal-scoring wing Avery Hayes, who is also a 20-year-old overage player, to Peterborough on Jan. 7. On the season, White has 10 goals and 37 points across 43 games for Hamilton and Peterborough.

Last season, White also had a 10-goal, 56-point statline across 66 games to rank second in defence scoring for the Bulldogs behind Nathan Staios.

White signing with Dallas marks the second year in a row that a 20-year-old defenceman who was not chosen in the priority selection draft, and spent a portion of his overage season playing under Bulldogs head coach Jay McKee, has signed an NHL deal.

Hamilton native Arber Xhekaj, who is now a regular defenceman for the Montréal Canadiens, was signed by the Canadiens in the fall of 2021 while playing for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. The Bulldogs then acquired Xhekaj for their playoff push.

Off-loading their overages — centre Logan Morrison was moved to the first-overall Ottawa 67’s — illustrated how Hamilton was hewing to the traditional cycle of the OHL roster management. Since the OHL is a pro-format league for players 16 through 20 years old, teams toggle through adding older players when their contention window is open, and then pivoting to development afterward.

Bulldogs’ record better since deadline

The Bulldogs, whose .534 point percentage is good for sixth in their conference with 10 regular-season games left, have realized a solid short-term return from the Hayes-White deal. The two forwards acquired, overage centre Sahil Panwar and 17-year-old wing Nick Lardis, have settled in as first-liners with Patrick Thomas on their left flank, with the trio ranking 1-2-3 on Hamilton in full-season scoring.

Hamilton has earned points at a .636 clip (14-8-0) since the deadline, compared to .472 prior to that. They have also gone 2-0 against the Petes, who are fourth in the conference.

Lardis, an Oakville native who is eligible for the 2023 NHL draft, has 19 goals over 23 games for the Bulldogs and has also nearly tripled his point-per-game pace from his time in Peterborough (1.52 to 0.53). Panwar is also averaging more than a point and a half per game for the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs also added a 2023 third-round choice (originally of the Flint Firebirds) in that swap.

Hamilton, which is moving to Brantford for at least the 2023-24 through ’25-26 seasons due to renovations of the downtown Hamilton entertainment precinct, finishes their regular-season home slate over these next two weekends. This weekend, the Bulldogs host the Owen Sound Attack on Friday (7 p.m.) and the Erie Otters on Sunday (2 p.m.) at FirstOntario Centre.

The Bulldogs’ final five regular-season games are on the road. The arena is booked for Disney’s Frozen On Ice, which takes place from March 15-19.

(Photos: Branton Taylor, OHL Images.)

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