OHL: 2003 draft review

By Jason Ahrens

The OHL had a very successful 2003 NHL Entry Draft as 42
players from the league were selected. This number was up from 35 in 2002 and similar to the 41 taken in 2001. Twenty-five
OHLers went in the first four rounds, including seven in the
first round.  Below is a look at how
the seven first rounders stack up.

Center Eric Staal of the Peterborough Petes went
second overall to the Carolina Hurricanes. 
Leading up to the draft,
Staal was the odds on favorite to go first
overall, but the Pittsburgh Penguins traded up to take goalie Marc-Andre
Fleury
.  Despite the fact that
the team has adequate to good goaltending and an extreme lack of NHL talent at
all skating positions, the Penguins decided to pass on two very good OHL centers. 
Instead, Carolina now has Staal, who will be able to step in and be a top
six player in a few years. Staal stands in at six foot three and weighs just
over one hundred and eighty pounds.  His
point total has gone up in every one of his three OHL seasons, this past year he
tallied 98 points in 66 games. 

Staal has had many comparisons to long time Hurricaane Ron
Francis, who is nearing the end of his long and productive NHL career. 
Staal may not ever put up numbers like Francis did, but he has all the
tools to play a long time in the NHL and should be no worse than a good second
line center, he might not have the offensive upside to be a big time first line
center.  Staal brings many things to
the table, a good work ethic, strong skating, good positional play, excellent
passing and OK size.  He hasn’t
grown much in his three seasons in the OHL, so he may be close to his adult
playing weight.  That makes some
people concerned that he may be a bit light for the NHL. Staal will be hard
pressed to crack the opening lineup of the Canes with guys like Ron Francis, Rod
Brind’Amour and Josef Vasicek ahead of him on the depth chart, which leaves
the Canes in a predicament.  Do they
send him back to junior if he doesn’t have an exceptional camp, or do they let
him break in slowly on the fourth line?  With
the possible labor war looming, Canes fans may not see much of Staal until the
2005-06 season.

Center Nathan Horton of the Oshawa Generals went
third overall to the Florida Panthers, who had held the first pick and were
quite happy to acquire the tough and talented forward who is very much a Mike
Keenan type player.  A year younger
than Staal, the question is will Horton get a chance to play for Keenan before
Iron Mike moves on, as he tends not to stay too long in one place. 
Horton has all the tools to be a rough and tumble center with the ability
to score goals and handle himself physically along the wall or in the war zone
in front of the net. He currently lacks the polish of Staal, but has more
potential as a goal scorer and should top out heavier on the scales. 
He stands at six foot two and just over two hundred pounds, so it easy to
project him crunching defenseman with two hundred and twenty pounds of adult
weight.

What you think of Horton might well depend on what stretch
of the season you saw him play.  He
started the year strong, before a fight resulted in him having his jaw broken. 
When he returned, he went to try out for the Canadian World Junior team,
where he was one of the first cuts.  His
game suffered after that, as he struggled with the disappointment, lost
confidence, and rust in his game from being off for so long. 
Down the stretch he found his niche again, and was a big part of Oshawa
knocking Staal and the Petes off in the first round of the playoffs. 
The Panthers have one of the youngest teams in the league, so it
wouldn’t be a stretch for Horton to crack the lineup in October, and again the
specter of the strike could be a factor in his immediate future. 
If there is a work stoppage in 2004-05, Horton would have to play in the
OHL, unlike the older Staal who would be able to play at the AHL level. 
So the Panthers have to consider the possibility that Horton could
possibly spend two more seasons in the OHL, which is normal for most players of
his age, but abnormal for high end picks.

Jeff Carter of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds was
the next OHL forward picked, going a surprising 11th overall to the
Philadelphia Flyers.  Carter was
only ranked as the 27th best North American skater by Central
Scouting, but the goal-starved Flyers saw a lot of offensive upside in the six
foot three pivot.  Carter doubled
his goal total on a poor Greyhound team this season, ending up with 35 in 61
games, and he followed that up with 6 points in helping Canada take home gold at
the under 18 tournament.  Carter has
the shot to score from anywhere on the ice and is comfortable on both his
forehand and backhand when handling the puck. 
Carter uses his size well to protect the puck and his skating is above
average.  Look for him to be a force
this year in the OHL and flirt with 50 goals.

Dustin Brown of the Guelph Storm went 13th
overall to the LA Kings, and was the first winger taken from the OHL. 
Brown has been a consistent goal scorer for the Storm and in his second
season was flirting with a goal a game pace until Christmas, before tapering off
and ending up with 41. This past season, playing in five fewer games, he slumped
to 34 on a Storm team that went through lots of turmoil and was playing without
its two power play quarterbacks from the year before. 
Brown has a lot of experience playing in big games. 
He took part in the Memorial Cup in his second season, and has played in
two world junior tournaments for the Americans, and will most likely be back for
his third this Christmas. 

The big concern about this goal scorer is will he be able
to score at the next level?  At
times he doesn’t produce much five on five as a lot of his success comes on
the power play.  He may be a guy who
will be a good minor league scorer but not be able to play at the big league
level.  The Kings are hoping that he
will get a bit bigger and with natural tools like his hands and speed, be able
to make the adjustment and play on the top two lines sometime down the road.

Mike Richards a center with the Kitchener Rangers,
was selected by the Flyers with the 24th pick. 
Richards is an offensive sparkplug who has put up better numbers than
fellow first round Flyer pick Carter, but is several inches shorter at just
under 6 feet tall.  Richards has
played in the shadow of Derek Roy, who was the go-to guy on the Rangers for the
past four seasons, but he was a very important piece of their Memorial Cup
championship team.  It was his line
that scored many of the big goals in the OHL playoffs, taking some of the heat
off of Roy.  Richards actually
played some of his best hockey when Roy was absent from the team like when he
was at the Buffalo Sabres camp or with the Canadian Junior team, so he is no
second fiddle.  He did lead the
Rangers in scoring this past season with 87 points in 67 games, and is a very
strong candidate to become their new captain this fall. 

Richards thrives in the transition game, as he hustles up
the ice at full speed and can turn an ordinary play into a dangerous one. 
When he carries the puck he is a threat to beat you one on one, he can
fire it, or make a beautiful pass.  He
is a strong positional player, but in the defensive zone he can be out-muscled
in his own end by bigger players.  He
did an excellent job on faceoffs all season, especially in the league final
against Ottawa.  He needs to get a
bit stronger and use his backhand better, but he should thrive with the Rangers
this season and will attempt to do what Roy wasn’t able to do, play for Team
Canada as an 18-year-old.

One pick after Richards, forward
Anthony Stewart of the Kingston Frontenacs was selected by the Panthers. 
So the Panthers were the second team to select two OHLers in the first
round and while the Flyers picked a pair of offensive pivots who get the job
done in a different manner, the Panthers picked two big guys who can crash and
bang, and put the puck in the net.  They
are oddly connected, as it was Stewart who broke Horton’s jaw in the fight
last fall.  Stewart only had 47
penalty minutes, but at 6’1″ and two hundred and thirty plus pounds, he can
take care of himself when the gloves are dropped. 
When the gloves are on, he can puck the puck in the net, which he did 32
times for Kingston last year, and tallied six for Canada in the World Under 18
tournament.  Coming from a large and
poor family, look for this guy to do whatever it takes to make it to the next
level and with his size and raw tools, don’t bet against him.      

Right winger Corey Perry of the London Knights was
selected 28th overall by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
A strong second half and an awesome playoffs vaulted Perry into the first
round as the Ducks were obviously impressed by his on ice vision and great set
of hands.  Perry has two big knocks
against him, speed and strength, but they are two things that can be addressed
over the summer. You can’t teach people
to pass the puck like he does; he can make floating saucer passes across the
ice, or fire a pass through a crowd for a tap in on the edge of the crease for a
teammate. When he does get going up ice
full speed with the puck, he can dazzle defensemen with his long reach if they
are foolish enough to look at the puck. He
loves to go down the wrong wing and then get a defender off balance and slide by
him on the outside and step back in and drive the net, often drawing a penalty. 

One minor knock on Perry is that he tries to be overly
creative.  Sometimes he won’t take
a shot and will try to beat one more defender to get the perfect shot, and will
get knocked off of the puck.  But
you would rather see that in a kid, than having him too scared to stickhandle in
traffic.  Perry probably led the
league in drawing penalties (and in diving), his only competition would have
been Derek Roy, but he took a lot of abuse that wasn’t called either. 
He is like the Timex watch, he certainly takes a licking, but he keeps on
ticking, and scoring.  Perry will
feel a lot of pressure to produce this year, as London lost several key guys to
graduation, but he may have some help depending on who they use as overagers and
if their European draftees come over and step in. 
When Perry tried to do it all himself last year he floundered, when he
uses his teammates effectively, look out.  Don’t
expect a huge year from him this season, but when he is nineteen, he might put
up numbers like a former London Knight, Jason Allison.