The Draft Through OHL Goggles

By Jason Ahrens

There were many interesting stories on Saturday and the debate over who was going to go first was the main event. This is not the first time that two young men from different leagues with different styles were put in the limelight and dissected and analyzed. Round 1 went to Rick Nash on Saturday, and this is a battle that might not be decided for 5, 10 years or maybe never. Columbus did the right thing, but I have seen Nash play far more than any other prospect with the exception of Steve Eminger. The two players appear to have totally different personalities and approaches to the game and I think that is why Nash went first.

Perhaps the deciding factor was the NHL playoffs of 2002. The hockey was extremely intense, rough, close checking and quite often brutal. The best team did not necessarily win the series, it was the one that had most guys dedicated to do what it took to win, block shots with any part of their body, play in pain, hack a guy down, run a goalie over, that was what we saw this year. I think Nash is far more suited to survive and thrive in an environment like that than Bouwmeester. The last two seasons Nash carried a team that had as many players of Tier 2 calibre as Major Junior players on his back into the playoffs. This season he was one of the main reasons they eliminated the best team in the OHL in the first round, and then gave the eventual league champs the toughest run, taking Erie to 6 hard fought games (with the exception of game 5). All Nash did was average about a point and a half a game against top-notch competition. He wants the puck and he wants to win and he loves to compete.

Time will tell who was right, but if you live in Medicine Hat or London, do not despair yet, despite what you may have read recently, you may see your young stars back at some point next season.

The jump from the CHL to the NHL is huge and you can count on your fingers the number of teenaged players who have had an impact in the last twenty years. You will have to invite a few friends over and use your toes as well, to count those that wallowed on the bench playing 10 minutes or less or being healthy scratches. Many of those never reached the potential that they were picked for. So when you hear that Jay Bouwmeester has nothing left to prove in the WHL, ask yourself this, has he won a gold medal at the World Juniors, or has he even made the playoffs, where is the award for the best defenceman in the WHL or CHL When you read that the only thing that will keep Nash out of Columbus will be not signing a contract take it with a grain of salt. Its not good business practice to finish in the basement of the NHL, draft a young man with a ton of potential, but admit to your fans who are sceptical about buying tickets that yeah, as bad as you are, the best 17 and 18 year old players available will not be of much help next year, but just wait until 2004 and up! So hence all the optimism this weekend about these two making their team next season. So round 1 goes to Nash, but many more battles will be fought in this war.

Other thoughts from the first round. If I am Atlanta, and I need huge upgrades at every position, why do I draft a goalie when teams like Montreal have 4 possible solutions to a quick and cheap upgrade. There are several goalies out there that could be acquired to give you adequate goaltending that would cost you next to nothing and you go and pass up on a potential franchise cornerstone. Better hope Kovalchuk can score 100 goals.

Tampa Bay showed why they are a perennial outsider come playoff time.

You hear a lot about taking the best player available. Yet Buffalo passes on Steve Eminger, a guy they have seen a lot as they drafted his teammate Derek Roy last season, and pick a defenceman from US college instead. Now that would have nothing to do with the fact that they are a financially struggling team and would have to offer Eminger a contract next season while they can wait 3 seasons before giving Keith Ballard a deal, would it? My money is on Eminger being the better player, but Washington won’t be disappointed with their pick.

Florida took a big skilled Czech centre out of the Sault 9th overall, the last time someone fit that description was Josef Vasicek now playing very well for the Hurricanes as most people found out in the playoffs. The Panthers can only hope that they will come off as lucky with Petr Taticek.

Buffalo made a very popular pick with the crowd at the 20th slot, grabbing Dan Paille, a skilled forward with a lot of grit from the Guelph Storm. He is from Welland, which is very close to Buffalo. You could call him a poor man’s Mike Peca. He needs to combine his skill and grit more consistently. His wheels are of NHL material, a lot of people have their doubts about his hands. But he will have two more seasons of junior to work on his scoring touch and to prove his doubters wrong.

Ben Eager rounded out the OHL first rounders, going 23rd to Phoenix. He is a big bruising winger from Oshawa who has many critics about his offensive upside, but if he continues to grow and gets used to his body and takes advantage of it, the Coyotes will have a good asset on their hands.

A few more thoughts on the first round, did Minnesota find the young centre to play with Gaborik.
Did Edmonton have to use their first rounder on Jesse Niinimaki or could they have nabbed him in the second or third round?

Mike Smith prefers Russians, fact or fiction. He took a Russian in the first and third round on Saturday, you be the judge.