Duchene

 

A draft is supposed to be a league’s way of leveling out the playing field.

 

Call it egalitarian, socialist, counter-evolutionary – even naïve – but as long as leagues award the top pick to the worst team, we have to operate on the assumption that by using such a system, leagues are trying to offer a hand-up to the cellar-dwellers. If that’s the case, why do the Canadian major junior leagues allow prospects and the fat-wallet teams to game the system?

 

You’ve heard it before many times. Matt Duchene, Angelo Esposito, Austin Watson – just to name a few -- are players who said they were going to play NCAA and even made commitments to schools. Eventually, they changed their mind and chose the major junior route.

 

In each case, they were drafted later than they would have gone had they said they intended to play major junior.

 

I can sympathize a little bit with a player who wants to find the best development opportunity or who might want to play somewhere for educational reasons. Heck, I can even sympathize a bit with a player who might like to play closer to home. If that’s the case, though, just say it; be up front about it.

 

When a player says he’s going to go the NCAA – and has no intention of going – it’s dishonest and what I call gaming the system. If a player is seriously considering the option and says it depends on who drafts him, I don’t have a problem with that because it’s honest. At least that way, the bottom feeder team that has a chance to draft him knows that the kid wants to play major junior and can leverage that to get something more for their high pick.

 

Remember, the draft is its designed is supposed to level the playing field; leagues are trying to help the cellar dwellers.

 

One way major junior leagues can clear the air a bit is ask all players who are interested in playing in their leagues to declare their intentions to enter the draft. This would not void their NCAA eligibility, however, and some might argue that everybody would just do it anyway to keep their options open. That could happen, but at least then the player has provided some clarity and they and their camp of advisors/parents have to be up front.

 

A player who clearly wants to go the NCAA route, such as top-ranked prospect Michael Matheson of the Lac St. Louis Lions, would not have declared earlier this month. It would have reduced the intrigue at the QMJHL draft in Drummondville and there would have been no hushed silence when the Quebec Remparts scout went to the podium and drew a hushed silence from the crowd when he announced their pick at No. 14 by beginning with “The Quebec Remparts are happy to select, from the Lac St. Louis Lions …”

 

Quebec selected Matheson’s teammate Patrick Walsh instead, but given past shenanigans, there were some who were still not convinced of Matheson’s intentions – myself included.

 

The QMJHL has financial penalties if they prove that a team gamed the system, but proving that can be difficult and one wonders if it’s enough of a deterrent. Some say it is.

 

In the OHL, the practice still goes on. This year, top prospects Nick Ebert and Matia Marcantuoni went late in the first round. Ebert went to the 2011 Memorial Cup hosts Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors at No. 17 and Marcantuoni went to the Kitchener Rangers at No. 18.

 

Mississauga is not usually considered one of the have teams in the OHL, but in this case, they’re playing that role of getting a highly-rated prospect well below where he should have gone in the draft.

 

The NHL draft is approaching and it’s rare for players to try and game the system of the best league in the world. There have been some examples of that in the past – and Eric Lindros is probably the most famous. In that case, Lindros simply said he refused to play for Quebec, but Quebec drafted him and traded him for a mother lode of talent including Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, and Ron Hextall. That trade worked out pretty well for the Nordiques because they realized Lindros was the best talent and they took him because they knew he wanted to play in the NHL.

 

Many major junior teams don’t realize that kind of gain because teenagers have options and teams are afraid of drafting a top-ranked prospect and going through the hassle of trading him. Major junior leagues should do a better job of compensating teams that draft a highly-touted prospect who doesn’t report. This would encourage more of them to take a chance on drafting top prospects and trading him if it turns out that major junior is the option the player prefers.

 

The OHL has a system by which a team gets a compensatory second-round draft pick if someone they took in the first round doesn’t report. For example, Kitchener took Cam Fowler in the first round in 2007 and he didn’t report so they threw him back and got a second-rounder.

 

That’s good, but it could be beefed up. That, and asking players to declare for the draft, would help keep things above board.

 

ONE-TIMERS: Hockey Canada names its roster for the world junior team evaluation camps and there were a few names that stuck out. I was happy to see that left-winger Kyle Clifford, profiled in an earlier Panning for Gold column was invited. When Clifford entered the OHL, he was drawing comparisons to Shayne Corson. At this stage of his career, those aren’t quite warranted because he doesn’t demonstrated Corson’s offensive skill, but the Los Angeles Kings’ second rounder plays the same kind of gritty game. It was also interesting to see that Hockey Canada again invited Zack Kassian, despite his legal troubles and a washout season in 2009-10. The 2011 tournament will be held in Buffalo and if the tournament were in Europe on a larger ice surface, players such as these two, Carter Ashton, Taylor Beck and Brad Ross might not have been invited. That’s a lot of truculence invited to the development camp.


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Ryan Van Horne said:

Scribe
Another OHL rule YYC, another rule that the OHL brought in a couple of years ago allows a team to get a first-round pick as compensation.

Niagara used it last year when Lucas Lessio left camp after 48 hours. They traded him to Oshawa and got what they could, but because they traded him before Sept. 15, they also got a compensatory first-rounder.

They took Lessio at No. 7 in 2009 and got the No. 8 pick in 2010 because of that. If you trade the guy after Sept. 15, then the compensation is less, a second-rounder. You might see Barrie use this same clause this summer with Kirby Rychel.
June 14, 2010
Votes: +0

Ryan Van Horne said:

Scribe
... Mabus, I hear ya. It's arguments such as the one you're making that make my sympathetic to the argument of a player having some say in where they want to play. I don't have a problem with that, I would just like to see honesty enter the equation. The bogus "planning to go NCAA" is getting a little tiresome. If a player doesn't want to go play for the team in Beaver Leavings because they can't draw flies, their coaching stinks, there are no educational opportunities beyond high school and the bus trips are way too long, then just say that. It's time to clear the air on this stuff and that's the way teams are going to get the jolt they need to improve. It's also up to leagues to get these teams to pull up their socks. Perhaps more junior teams in small markets should follow the Notre Dame Hounds model and that would make them a more attractive destination.
June 14, 2010
Votes: +0

Mabus said:

mabus
... I just think it's odd. I grew up just outside of Edmonton, and at 15, one of my friends was drafted by Spokane. He was forced to move away from his parents - they can't work there. Seems odd that we would force 16 year old kids to move away from their families. It's not like he'd complain about the system, as his goal was to make the NHL and he was successful.

The whole Graham James thing also drives me nuts. I can't imagine those same things would have happened if families were around. Maybe I'm being naive.

If teams want to attract players, they should be showing that they have devoted coaches with a proven track record for developing talent. There is a reason kids from Wendel Clark through Brind'Amour, Lecavalier and most recently Myers have played their midget hockey in rural Saskatchewan at Notre Dame - development. I just wish we attracted kids to junior programs because of superior development.

I don't mind more imbalance in the leagues if more kids are given the opportunity to play closer to family, or move because it will maximize development - rather than provide more parity for the league.

Mabus
June 13, 2010
Votes: +0

Ryan Van Horne said:

Scribe
... Mabus, yes in some cases players are forced to go somewhere where they don't want to play, but in many cases, players do so willingly and their parents buy in completely.

Players even younger than 16 have committed to U.S. colleges. Colleges don’t have rules about how young they can go after young prospects. Jon Merrill made a commitment to Michigan when he was just 14. Cam Fowler was almost as young when he made a commitment to Notre Dame, but he changed his mind. This is allowed, and it’s often considered poaching by some followers of NCAA hockey. I don’t agree with this view and think a young player who leaves college for major junior is merely exercising his rights.

The unfortunate side effect of NCAA eligibility rules, from a player development standpoint, is that keep players from playing major junior when it makes more sense to play major junior instead of junior A at 16 and 17. Major junior would be a great stepping stone for top players who want to go to college, but because the NCAA considers major junior professional hockey, the kids usually choose another option. Leaving college to play major junior gets a player into a pro-style grind, but they’re often playing against 16- to 19-year-olds as opposed to 18- to 22-year-olds.

The debate about NCAA eligibility is a topic for another column, but I think there needs to be a more cohesive plan among North American amateur hockey leagues; a plan that incorporates common sense and puts the development of players as the most important factor.

One negative impact on allowing players to play major junior and retain their college eligibility is it would keep a lot of players out of junior A leagues in Canada and the USHL -- not all, but a great deal.
June 13, 2010
Votes: +0

yyc said:

squirrel
... Good point Ryan - but i know the NCAA (College Hockey Inc) would probably push for that/accept that as a potential solution to the Major Jr recruitment issue they perceive. It wouldnt be a bad solution from their standpoint. As for the big wallet issues, that'll always exist unfortunately. Some Major Junior teams have a very pro feel about them...that's hard for smaller markets to compete with.
June 12, 2010
Votes: +1

Ryan Van Horne said:

Scribe
... YYC, that would be a useful deterrent but it might be difficult to get buy in because some people might argue that the player who already didn't report to one team might be less valuable.

Another thing that is difficult to police is when big-wallet teams such as the London Knights pick guys like Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane in later rounds -- Kane in the fifth round in 2004 and Gagner in the fourth round in 2005 -- and then convince them to forgo the NCAA route and play major junior. Most teams don't bother gambling with these types of picks, but teams such as London do because they have a track record of on-ice success -- and deep pockets.
June 12, 2010
Votes: +0

YYC said:

squirrel
... Would this work? For players who commit to an NCAA school who don't report, make it so they have to be drafted at the same or higher position than they originally were. So if a player was drafted 8th overall, doesnt report, and decides they want to play Major Junior instead, the next time they have to be drafted at 8th or higher. Teams trying to game the system would have to move up to get them - basically forcing them to work out a fair trade, teams taking risks are still taking a risk (since the compensatory pick is a 2nd rounder), but makes it more equitable for them. Thoughts?
June 12, 2010
Votes: +0

Mabus said:

mabus
... I think it's crazy that we force 16 year old kids to leave home to play hockey because of a draft when there is a team in the same league in their home towns.

Mabus
June 12, 2010
Votes: +0
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