This Saturday, the OHL will hold their annual Priority Selection/Draft. There was a time a few years ago when the OHL Draft was the pinnacle of theatre in the hockey world. The days leading up to the draft were a steady stream of information and disinformation spread by players and their agents in an attempt to dissuade certain teams from drafting a player, and get players selected by certain teams. That still happens to some extent--I'm sure there's more than a few agents and general managers that won't sleep a minute between now and Saturday evening--but nothing like the glory days of six or seven years ago, especially from the perspective of an American college hockey fan.
Three changes have happened in recent years that really seemed to settle things down:
1. NCAA programs have really backed off on going after really high-end kids from Ontario until after they at least show some willingness to pass on playing in the OHL. Ultimately, the return rarely justified the time and effort that goes into recruiting kids like that.
2. OHL rule changes made the types of pre-draft handshake deals between certain players and certain teams more difficult. The big test case was the 2011 OHL when Kingston called the bluff of Max Domi by selecting him 8th overall rather than letting him slide to a team he wanted to play for. Domi didn't report to Kingston and the Frontenacs were able trade him to London for a boatload of compensatory picks. The system seemed to work as a win-win for each side. London went to the Memorial Cup last year with Domi as a key player. Kingston had a pretty good team this year with a bunch of talented '96-born players, including potential top-5 NHL draft pick Sam Bennett, that they acquired with the draft picks they got for Domi(though Kingston lost in the first round of the playoffs this year because of course they did, because they are Kingston). In any case, the system seemed to have worked in slowing down those types of deals.
3. The greater communication allowed by the internet has made information a lot more readily available to a much larger pool of people. It was much easier to pretend you had a commitment to an NCAA school and less of a PR hit to break that commitment when you were just dealing with a few hockey insiders. Thanks to things like Twitter, that sort of information becomes public record.
But some traditions are just too grand to let fade away, so without ado, here are my notes for The Dirtiest Day in Sports:
-Before we start, a big thanks go out to Sean LaFortune(@SeanLaFortune) of TheScout.ca, who is both the go-to source on the OHL Draft and hockey prospects in Ontario in general, and a big help in getting this post together.
-The likely first overall pick in this year's draft is American Jakob Chychrun. Chychrun is the son of former NHLer Jeff Chychrun and grew up playing hockey in Florida. Chychrun already measures 6'2" and is very advanced for his age. At the beginning of the year, Chychrun made the roster of the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL, and seemed set to play for them, but a new rule by USA Hockey required 15-year-olds to get a special exemption to play junior hockey, and Chychrun was denied.* Instead, Chychrun moved to Toronto to play for the Jr. Canadians AAA program where he had an outstanding year. He was featured on Hockey Night on Canada, and became the first player from his AAA league to represent Team Ontario at the World U17 Challenge.
If there's any sort of drama in the top pick, it's that Sarnia holds the first overall pick. There was at least a little speculation that Chychrun might not want to go to Sarnia, and that Sarnia might not want him, instead opting for the less pro-ready Adam Mascherin. But now that we're into Draft week, everybody seems to have Chychurn going first overall.
UPDATE: Chychrun was indeed announced as the first overall pick in the draft by the Sarnia Sting on Friday.
(*That decision likely had little to no impact on NCAA hockey. If Chychrun continued to develop at the rate he has so far, he would have gone to the OHL eventually or been in the NCAA a very short time, if at all before going to the NHL. There's also some concern that that decision ruined the relationship of Chychrun, who is a dual-citizen, with USA Hockey. But again, given the choice, I think Chychrun would have ended up representing Canada in the future regardless.)
-Another American listed as a potential top 5-talent is power forward Logan Brown, son of former NHLer Jeff Brown. Brown has reportedly committed to the NTDP for one season, but TheScout.ca has him in the first round of their most recent mock draft and it seems likely he'll play his NHL draft year in the OHL. Brown's father Jeff is coach of the Indiana Ice in the USHL. The Ice will likely be going dormant at the end of the season(It's all but official. The league is just waiting for their season to end before announcing it). Rumors have been swirling leading up to the draft that the Ottawa 67s will hire the elder Brown as a coach as an enticement to get the younger Brown to sign.
Update: Brown likely will not be selected by Ottawa on Saturday morning, but will be drafted fairly early in the first round tomorrow and is expected to report, either to the team that drafts him, or to a team that trades for his rights after the draft.
-And there's a third American with an NHL father ranked in the top-10 in this draft. Honeybaked U18 forward Max Jones, son of NHLer Brad Jones, has some interesting ties on both sides of the border. His father played hockey for Red Berenson at Michigan in the late-80's. His older brother Mitch was a defenseman for the Plymouth Whalers this past season. Jones has committed to play for the NTDP program next season. However, there is some belief that if Jones ends up being selected by Mississauga, he could end up in the OHL.
-Last year, NTDP forward Jordan Greenway was selected in the first round by Plymouth, with many speculating that Greenway would head to Plymouth after a year with the NTDP. Greenway has since made a commitment to Boston University, but those can always change. Meanwhile, his younger brother JD is a very talented defenseman and is eligible to be selected this year. If a team was able to convince both to sign as a package deal(either with Plymouth, or a trade that sent Jordan elsewhere), that would be a potentially team-changing move adding two quality players like that.
-There are a ton of players eligible for this draft that have already made college commitments. As always, the general rule is that you'd like to see a player committed to your team fall at least a couple rounds below where his talent would project.
One thing that stuck out to me is that there are a larger than usual number of eastern NCAA teams with commits that are eligible to be taken in this draft: Clayton Keller(BU), Graham McPhee(BC), Simon Butala and AJ Drobot(Maine), David Melaragni and Shaun Bily(Northeastern), Sam Sternschein(Cornell), Dante Palecco and Cam Dineen(Yale), Adam Fox and Joseph Woll(Harvard). Not to mention some older recruits that might be taken on re-entry in the draft like Warren Foegele(New Hampshire), Jake Walman(Providence), and Michael Prapavessis(RPI).
Ironically, there's six Hockey East teams that could have a commit taken, and Notre Dame, who plays in OHL territory and has had their share of famous run-ins with the OHL, is not one of them.
-Speaking of Boston University recruit Clayton Keller, he wasn't on the initial list of players committed to next year's NTDP team, but I wouldn't read too much into that. I haven't heard much chatter about him looking at the OHL, and it would be big news if he was, because he's easily a first round talent.
-Detroit Honeybaked defenseman Ben Gleason seems to be the one American everyone singles out as definitely headed to the OHL. Buffalo-born forward Justin Cmunt moved up and around the lake to play for the Toronto Jr. Canadians, which generally isn't a great sign for preserving NCAA eligibility.
-Among the kids with famous names in this draft, Paul Coffey's son, Blake Coffey is eligible to be picked. Paul got into some hot water this year while coaching his son.
-One of the kids that made it onto the draft entry list is a kid named Hunter Hogue, who plays for a team called the Northern Kentucky Norse, a team I can honestly say I have never heard of. Consider me intrigued. The best Google turns up is that he led last year's Bantam Tier II national championships in scoring.