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OHL

After big names, OHL's draft-eligible crop drops off

By John Matisz, Postmedia Network

Connor McDavid from Team Orr skates into the Team Cherry end during the Top Prospects Game at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines on January 22, 2015. (Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard/QMI Agency)

Connor McDavid from Team Orr skates into the Team Cherry end during the Top Prospects Game at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines on January 22, 2015. (Bob Tymczyszyn/St. Catharines Standard/QMI Agency)

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ST. CATHARINES, ONT. - 

Even with Connor McDavid as its anchor, the Ontario Hockey League’s showing at this summer’s NHL draft doesn’t project greatness.

Sound absurd? Stay with me.

McDavid, the esteemed 18-year-old centre of not only the Erie Otters but also the prospect universe, leads a pack of five OHL blue-chippers eligible for the 2015 draft.

McDavid’s right-hand man in Erie, Dylan Strome, hulking Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs, Sarnia Sting import Pavel Zacha and London Knights point machine Mitch Marner should all be scooped up fairly early – probably within the top 10 -- in June.

From there, aside from Ottawa 67’s captain Travis Konecny -- who would be in the top 15 conversation if not for the fact his skill set complements a bigger body type – that should be it for first-round-bound OHLers.

This year’s talent pool is quite simply top-heavy. Not since 2007’s three-spot have fewer than seven OHLers been selected in the opening round of the NHL draft.

Now that I have your attention, a disclaimer: this is a temperature reading of the draft class at the Top Prospects Game in the middle of January.

Remaining are 25 regular-season games and the playoffs. Players can swoop up or slide down scouting charts between now and summertime.

Of course, an optimist might point out that having a handful of OHLers in the top 10 is nothing to scoff at, that it should be a source of pride. That’s fair.

“I think the ratings don’t do a lot of guys’ justice,” Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds forward Blake Speers told me Thursday. “There’s a lot of good players in the late-1996/1997 age group in the OHL that don’t get a lot of love.”

Speers, who is ranked 44th on NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings of North American draft-eligible skaters, makes a valid point. The OHL’s crop isn’t just six big-bang players and then radio silence – a whole slew of others will hear their names called in Sunrise, Fla., at some point.

But, this is the OHL we’re talking about, the so-called benchmark among development leagues. By reputation, the 20-team loop is supposed to pump out around 10 top-30 guys per year.

For argument’s sake – and this is a generous offering -- let’s say Konecny is drafted in the 18th-23rd overall range while another OHLer, perhaps Sarnia’s Nikita Korostelev, squeaks in as a late first-rounder.

That’s still only seven OHLers in the top 30. In the last 10 drafts, only three times – 2009 (7), 2007 (3) and 2006 (6) – has the OHL produced seven or fewer first-rounders.

When all the focus is on McDavid and his four upper-echelon peers, the lack of depth in the OHL crop tends to be forgotten.

What’s more, 2015’s second round likely won’t be dominated by the OHL either.

Along with Speers, Barrie Colts goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, defencemen Travis Dermott (Erie Otters), Matt Spencer (Peterborough Petes), Vince Dunn (Niagara IceDogs) and Mitch Vande Sompel (Oshawa Generals) are in contention for a second-round spot.

Blackwood’s considered the best goalie in the entire draft class – OHL and beyond – so it’s safe to say he’ll be property of an NHL team before the book is closed on the second round.

It’s tough to handicap such a thing, but the OHL could see 5-8 players go in the 31-60 range. Good, sure, but not exactly flag-waving stuff.

“I’m not exactly sure where I’ll end up” in June, said Spencer, 51st on Central Scouting’s list. “So I have to treat every new day as a new experience and really give my all.”

The ‘McDavid Effect’ is in full force.

Normally, that alludes to his ability to make his linemates better.

In this case, however, it refers to the McDavid anchor holding down a not-so-deep of draft-eligible OHLers.

TPG NOT WHAT IT SEEMS

In the interest of being frank and calling a spade a spade, the Top Prospects Game is closer to an all-star game than a scouting showcase as it’s often made out to be.

I’m not suggesting the players’ efforts are lax or that they don’t care. They do.

It’s the meaning of the game itself that is watery.

Sure, it’s nice. Fans, media and scouts get to see what some of the best draft-eligible players can accomplish in a high-pressure environment. But that’s about all it is – nice.

A player’s draft stock, in the grand scheme of things, is virtually unaffected by their TPG performance. If anybody hates small sample sizes, it’s the scouting fraternity.

And, since the TPG rosters are chosen through a survey distributed to NHL teams, do you really think these are the kids scouts waste their drool on?

Players scouts truly care about evaluating at this point in the season – the second-round steals, the third-round gems – oftentimes go unsuggested during the selection process.

Think about it: If you’re an NHL team who is crushing on Player X’s game, why expose him to the 29 other teams you’ll be competing against on draft day?

Take Remi Elie, for example.

The Dallas Stars “went off the board” to choose the Ottawa-area power forward 40th overall in the 2013 NHL draft.

Elie was hidden on the London Knights’ fourth line for most of the 2012-13 season, barely given any mainstream attention.

Watching him compete in the TPG might have opened a rival scout’s eyes a little wider.

Just some food for thought.

 


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