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Race for first overall pick in the OHL draft heats up

Jack Hughes is generally considered the best player, but is he available?
Saxon on the Storm

The Jack Hughes Standings are heating up.

That's the OHL standings upside down. With Hughes being the possible reward for the team that finishes dead last overall and gets to pick first in the OHL Priority Selection Draft.

Hughes is the minor midget player generally considered to be the runaway choice as the best player available for this year's draft, a 5-foot-9 (some say that's pushing it) centre with the Toronto Marlies minor midget team.

Had he sought and been granted exceptional status a year ago, he probably would have been the first overall pick then.

The Guelph Storm is obviously in the running for this year's top pick.

With 18 games left in the regular season they are in 19th place overall, nine points better than the last-place Barrie Colts.

But only two points currently separate the other three non-playoff teams, with the North Bay Battalion one point back of Guelph and the Niagara IceDogs two points back.

For a team like Guelph whose first round choice would, should and likely will be a centre, is a good year to be bad.

This is considered a below average year for high-end defencemen in the draft, but five of the players at the top of the best eight or nine draft-eligible prospects are centres.

Hughes, who also played up in minor midget last season, leads the way.

As someone in the Storm organization who has seen him play several times said, "he does Merkley stuff out there."

That was a compliment and reference to the Storm's uber-talented first pick from last year, Ryan Merkley.

But it's no slam dunk that Hughes will be the first overall pick.

Although raised in Mississauga, Hughes has dual citizenship and could choose to follow in the footsteps of older brother Quinn, who is currently with the USNTDP program and has already committed to Michigan.

His dad Jim and uncle Marty both played NCAA hockey too.

But the lack of a commit to an NCAA school thus far offers hope that he is at least still considering his options.

Either way we are likely to get into the "will he or won't he?" "draft him anyway!" and "bet he has a deal worked out" talk that seems to accompany every draft.

Hughes aside, there is a very good group of centres still available.

Ryan Suzuki (brother of Owen Sound's Nick), Alex Turcotte (an American already committed to Wisconsin), Jamieson Reese (Mississauga talent) and Tag Bertuzzi (son of Todd) are all at the top of the rankings heading into the final stretch of evaluations that pretty much culminate with the OHL Cup event during March break.

And a side note, Hughes's aforementioned father Jim was an assistant coach with the Orlando Solar Bears of the East Coast Hockey League in 2000, where the team's second-leading scorer was Jarrod Skalde.

Just sayin'.