OWEN SOUND, Ont. - Scouts have been converging on Owen Sound all season to watch a trio of 17-year-olds.
Not since forward Wayne Primeau and goaltender Jamie Storr were chosen in 1994 has the Owen Sound Attack/Platers organization had two of its own taken in the first round of the NHL draft.
The Attack could make it three first-rounders come June at the 2012 draft in Pittsburgh.
In its preliminary draft rankings, NHL Central Scouting had three Attack forwards ? Jarrod Maidens, Gemel Smith and Artur Gavrus ? in its top 25 OHL eligible skaters list.
"All three of them have been outstanding," said one scout who, to convince himself in what he is seeing, has made multiple visits to Owen Sound this season. "They can all skate like the wind and they each have terrific hockey sense.
"And those," he added, "are two areas of the game that you just can't teach."
It's no surprise that Maidens, ranked fifth among OHL skaters by Central Scouting, has attracted the attention he has in his second season. Scouts have been well aware of the 17-year-old from Ridgeway, Ont., who scored 63 goals in 57 games two seasons ago in minor midget with the Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs.
Since then, the six-foot-one 178-pound centre, who has drawn comparisons to Jarome Iginla, has been chosen fourth overall at the 2010 OHL Priority Selection, hoisted the J. Ross Robertson Cup as an OHL champion, competed for the Memorial Cup, and won gold for Canada at the World Under-18 Championships.
"Honestly, the draft is on my mind a lot," said Maidens, who last spring scored the biggest goal in Owen Sound Attack history when he notched the overtime winner in Game 7 of the OHL final. "As an athlete I'm very competitive by nature, so I always set high goals for myself. And being a first-round pick is one of those goals. Now it's just about going out and playing my game and proving to NHL teams that I'm worth a first-round pick."
"Jarrod has done a great job buying in," said Attack head coach Greg Ireland. "He has shown great leadership by becoming one of the hardest workers we have on the team."
For Smith, who wasn't even on the radar of most scouts following a mediocre 16-point rookie campaign, the recognition this season has come at a frenzied pace.
The 5-11, 161-pound Toronto native, ranked 12th in the OHL, admits he arrived this season ??? his second in Owen Sound ??? with a "give it my all, whatever happens, happens" attitude.
Even he is taken back by the interest in him.
"I'm definitely surprised," said Smith, who currently leads the Attack with 28 points this season. "It seems all this draft talk came out of nowhere. I really don't know how to feel when people ask me about the draft because it has all happened so fast for me.
"I do know it has given me a lot more confidence. When you get recognized like I have this season it makes you want to work that much harder."
Said Ireland: "Gemel is a pleasure to coach. He is a kid that understands and does whatever us coaches ask of him. We knew the talent was there, but he has worked hard this season to be an all-round player and one of our most reliable forwards."
Then there's the Attack's Belarusian rookie import Gavrus, who was in the midst of a smooth transition to the North American style game.
However, that was before the swift-skating forward, who was named the OHL's Rookie of the Month after amassing 13 points in October, was hit at centre ice by London's Max Domi on Saturday. Gavrus was taken off the ice by stretcher and transported to hospital where he remained overnight. He was released on Sunday morning, but there is no word on his possible return.
"Artur is a great team player that has shown a tremendous amount of maturity for a kid his age," said Ireland. "This injury came at an unfortunate time, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Artur persevere through a setback like this."
Said Maidens: "I wish him the best. He's not only a great player but a great teammate. Sometimes I just have to say 'wow' when I see him do certain things on the ice."