The OHL Draft A Game Within The Game

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The OHL Draft, a game within the game

This year’s OHL priority selection draft, which takes place on Saturday, is a fascinating window into the hockey business these days. So anxious are OHL clubs to prevent top young players from being wooed by the NCAA that they’ve enacted an “exceptional” player rule that permits top 15-year-olds to be selected. Used previously on John Tavares and then last year by Barrie to take defenseman Aaron Ekblad, this year McKeown’s Marlie teammate, forward Connor McDavid, will get that exemption and will go first in the draft to the Erie Otters.

What happens after that, however, is where the OHL draft differs from the NHL draft because the elite talents, like Max Domi last season, have a much greater say in where they will and won’t play. Rumors of outlandish promises and cash payments everywhere, but never proven.

For the most part, deals are cut before the draft. This year, after McDavid, most know McKeown is going to Kingston and Peterborough will then take Upper Canada Cyclones centre Eric Comel. The intrigue will then be at the No. 4 position where the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, after successfully convincing Darnell Nurse to go north last spring, may have a headache on their hands.

The best talent may be another Marlie, Josh Ho-Sang, but speculation is that he would prefer not to go to the Soo. With options like midget hockey, Tier II or the USHL, elite prospects have leverage that players simply don’t have in the NHL draft.

For the Kingston Frontenacs, this is a critical year to get that franchise moving, particularly after making a big deal with Sarnia last season to send Kingston’s best player, Boston Bruins draftee Ryan Spooner, to the Sting for a younger player, Ryan Kujawinski.

With a compensatory pick from last year’s Max Domi episode in hand, Kingston has the second and ninth picks, plus the 22nd and 24th. Kingston is now selling the importance of school to their prospective players, including the proximity of Queen’s University, and the chance for those who don’t make pro hockey to use their education packages to play Canadian university hockey after the OHL.

New operators and General Managers often encounter a steep learning curve running an operation, finding your way in a business where many of the important decisions are made in back rooms between cold-blooded, well-funded junior operations and ambitious hockey parents.

The best of the kids that will drafted into the OHL this weekend are anything but kids. They’re prospects, with their eye on the NHL draft years down the road and big-money contracts.

They’re not about being told what to do. They’re running this show.

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