By Tom Hunter (@)
Yesterday the Ontario Hockey League announced the introduction of an annual Under-18 Priority Selection for Midget AAA hockey players that will begin later this year. This is a third – completely separate – draft to go along with the already established U-16 Priority Selection and the CHL Import Draft.
The new draft will allow teams to select Ontario-based Midget players that were passed over in the draft the previous years. It will consist of four rounds in which all 20 teams are obliged to participate – the Ontario-based part is key here as most older players that join the league after not being drafted come from either the US or out West and are not eligible for this draft.
Commissioner David Branch explained the league’s thought process:
“Midget hockey in Ontario features hundreds of talented players who continue to develop their game. Working with our Minor Hockey partners, the OHL Under-18 Priority Selection will serve to assist in the continued growth of Midget hockey and provide further opportunities for players at different stages of their overall hockey development.”
In other words, “keep the dream alive, a little longer.”
Now, I don’t want to sound too callous, but if you’re not selected in the absurdly long 15-round draft after your previous two seasons, maybe it’s time the dream dies – at least for most players. The current OHL Priority Selection draft is already too long and consists of a huge number of players that will never play major junior hockey. Why do we need another?
I get it, kids can do a lot of maturing – both mentally and physically – between the ages of 15 and 17, but the number of high-end players that grow enough to be of interest to OHL teams is incredibly small – definitely too small to warrant a whole 4-round draft. If a kid develops enough in his 17-year old season, that’s great, let him sign with an OHL team.
Thanks to this year’s World Junior Championship, the hockey world knows Anthony Cirelli’s story – the undrafted walk-on turned Memorial Cup hero turned OHL captain. This new U-18 draft will be for kids like him. Kids that kept working hard and turned themselves into OHL caliber players against the odds.
The problem is, there simply aren’t enough kids to fill four rounds. For every Anthony Cirelli, there are a dozen or more kids who push themselves – or worse, are pushed by their parents – to reach for a dream that isn’t realistic.
The number of players that end up joining the OHL after being passed over in the draft is tiny – and the number that come from Ontario is even smaller.
At the ’16 OHL draft, 9 U18 players were selected. Four played in the US. Three played Jr B/C. Only two would be eligible for the new draft.
— ML7Hockey (@ML7Hockey) January 18, 2017
That’s two players that were drafted this past year as U18 players that would end up in this newly created draft.
What about players that haven’t been selected at all in previous drafts? Clark Aitken sums that up:
The fact is that there simply isn’t enough ‘untapped’ talent to justify a new U18 draft. Especially one that makes it mandatory for a team to select a player in all four rounds – a fifth if one is a goaltender.
If the OHL insists on making this U18 Priority Selection happen, make it like the CHL Import draft – keep it to two rounds and give teams an option to pass on their pick.
In the time since the announcement was made by the league, I have spoken to employees from four different OHL teams. Each and every one of them has said they flat out don’t understand why it is necessary. This thing simply doesn’t make sense.
OHL scouts are already watching these Midget teams – it’s part of their jobs. Teams are able to sign the few players that slip through the cracks – there’s no need to force the issue.
In the OHL’s press release, the heads of Hockey Canada’s three Ontario Branches – the Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF), Hockey Eastern Ontario (HEO), and Hockey Northwestern Ontario (HNO) all spoke of the draft as a way for players to develop at their own pace, and how the new U18 would be a great thing for Midget hockey in the province. To me, it just reads as false hope.
Will a few players come out of this draft and turn into professional hockey players against all odds? Probably. I do, however, believe that it is far more likely to lead to kids and parents pushing beyond their means towards an unattainable goal.
The first every OHL Under 18 Priority Selection will happen this coming April – we’ll see how it goes. Maybe we need to give this thing the benefit of the doubt, maybe it will lead to unearthing more hidden talent that will make the Ontario Hockey League better than ever, or maybe it’s just a way to Keep the Dream Alive for the sake of it.