The Guelph Storm picks first overall in this year's OHL draft and one of the biggest potential hurdles to choosing the best player appears to have been cleared.
Storm head scout Chris McCleary said that the top American players for the draft have said they will report to Guelph if chosen.
“I don’t think there’s any hesitation to come,” McCleary said earlier this week during a break in scouting the OHL Cup tournament in Toronto.
“I think with those American guys there’s no issue with them not coming. That’s not really a factor in the decision. We’re just trying to pick the best player.”
Two of the top prospects this year - Chicago Mission defenceman Bode Wilde and Detroit Compuware centre Blade Jenkins - are American. Both have made verbal commitments to NCAA colleges: Wilde to Harvard and Jenkins to Michigan. Those commitments are not binding.
“There’s a cache of being first overall and Guelph’s a great market to come to. I think those things coupled together make us a destination.”
Storm general manager Mike Kelly offers a note of caution about the American players.
"In fairness to all of the U.S. players attending the NTDP (National Team Development Program) camp in Plymouth, all of those players are in that camp trying to secure a roster spot for next year. It will only be after that camp, that some players will review their options," Kelly said.
This is only the second time in franchise history the Storm has selected first overall in the draft. The other time was 1992 when it chose Jeff O’Neill.
“No pressure,” joked McCleary.
Two of the other players considered to be top-five picks play a little closer to home: Toronto Jr. Canadiens teammates Ryan Merkley, a defenceman, and Russian-born winger Kirill Nizhnikov.
Merkley and Nizhnikov are playing in this week’s OHL Cup, Wilde and Jenkins have club commitments and are not there.
McCleary said when you pick first overall you take the best player regardless of position.
“We’re looking for a franchise player. Someone that makes everyone else around him better and bump the franchise up to a different level,” McCleary said.
“We’re not just looking for just a very good player to come in and help make us better. We’re looking for someone to come in who will eventually help make us great.”
That being said, McCleary said that won’t happen immediately.
“To be fair to that player, it’s a couple of years down the line, when he’s 18 or 19. I think it’s pretty unjust to ask a 16 year old to come in and do that.”
McCleary agrees that there is no one player in this year’s draft who is head and shoulders above the others. They are all super-skilled, but different players.
“They all have their attributes and as good as they are they all have weaknesses that they have to work on. It’s up to us to sift through that and pick the right player.
“The one common thread with them all is that they’re all super skilled. They’re all high-end players when it comes to skill. Other than that they’re all a little bit different.”
This year’s draft is Saturday, April 9, but the OHL usually holds a press conference the day before to announce the first overall pick.