Petes’ Cornel hoping versatility will be his ticket to NHL Draft selection

By Jason Menard

Eric Cornel - Peterborough Petes

Photo: Peterborough Petes forward and 2014 prospect Eric Cornel has played on a line with fellow 2014 prospect Nick Ritchie for much of the 2013-14 season (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

He may have started the season off the radar, but after a solid sophomore campaign with the Peterborough Petes, Eric Cornel has himself firmly affixed in the sights of NHL scouts.

In Central Scouting’s midterm rankings, Cornel found himself ranked 23rd amongst North American skaters for the 2014 NHL Draft. The Kemptville, ON native said that going from way off the charts to any attention he’s receiving now is the result of effort.

“I was pretty happy. I think I’ve progressed as the year’s gone on and the hard work that I’ve put in so far in the year is paying off,” he said.

That effort has also resulted in 25 goals and 37 assists in 68 games so far — and playing a key role, along with linemate and fellow draft-eligible Nick Ritchie, in Peterborough’s return to the OHL playoffs.

“I think I just started playing well. I got a lot of support from my teammates and the coaching staff has helped me out a lot,” he said. “I was just trying to get better and I think it shows in the ratings.”

Part of that improvement has been Cornel’s focus on showing his versatility.

“I’m working hard on playing well defensively. I was a centreman and I’ve switched to wing as well,” he said. “I think that might have helped. I was also trying to be more physical.”

The January acquisition of Hunter Garlent by the Petes also gave him the opportunity to move to the wing. Cornel said that he feels the diversity of positioning is going to help him long-term.

“It’s good to be able to switch back and forth because you never know where you’re going to end up on the team that wants you. That helps,” he explained. “Here, when we traded for Garlent, he came in as a centre and I switched to wing, so I think it worked out well.”

It’s still early in his position switch, but Cornel said he’s enjoying moving out of the middle. “I think I like playing wing, but I’m playing with a good centreman,” he said. “I think I don’t have to worry about playing down low battling as much. I can focus on the point man and worry about getting the puck out of our zone.”

Both Cornel and Ritchie are highly regarded in the NHL Draft rankings, but if there’s any competition or nerves, the players keep it to themselves.

“We don’t talk about it, but we both know it’s there in the back of our minds,” Cornel said. “I think we push each other. He’s a great player and he’s really helped me out.”

Both he and Ritchie are playing key roles on a playoff-bound squad. In a league dominated by 18 and 19 year olds, draft-eligibles often are forced into secondary roles on their teams, especially on competitive squads. Cornel said he’s extremely appreciative of his position on the Petes.

“I’m definitely aware. Last year I wasn’t getting as much exposure and I wasn’t playing as much on a non-playoff team, so I don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “I’m really fortunate to be in such a great organization.”

Established in 1956, the Petes are the OHL’s oldest continuously running team. It’s a squad with a rich history and, while the players are respectful of its past, they’re more excited about being part of a renewed future.

“We’re aware of [the Peterborough Petes] past, but we don’t want to get stuck in it,” he said. “Recently we haven’t had a great playoff record, so I think, moving forward, we’ve had a few changes in our organization and that’s only going to help us get better and not look back.”

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