-- The Western Hockey League had nine players chosen in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, but the Ontario Hockey League is primed to challenge that total when the 2008 draft is held tonight and Saturday at Scotiabank Place.
NHL Central Scouting's top three North American skaters hail from the OHL, as do four of the top six, six of the top 10 and 18 of the top 60. The WHL has 16 of the first 60, followed by eight from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Historically, no league has provided more talent than the OHL. Since 1969, 21.2 per cent of all players drafted – better than one in five – have come from the OHL.
Why does one league have so much potential talent when compared with the others?
"I don't think they are doing anything different," NHL director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire said of the OHL. "It’s a cyclical thing; there could be seven or nine from the Quebec league next season. So far from what we know about next year's crop is that the OHL has its fair share of prospects, but it's nothing like this season where they have more than any other league.
"It's cyclical and there are four OHLers in our top six-rated North American skaters. I don’t think there is any trend here that the OHL is producing more players than the QMJHL or the WHL, though.”
The OHL's draft dominance is not a new phenomenon; in the last five drafts, the OHL has supplied the most first-round picks three times.
Steven Stamkos of the Sarnia Sting is expected to be the second consecutive No. 1 overall pick to come from the OHL. He would follow Patrick Kane, who was taken by the Chicago Blackhawks last June with the No. 1 overall pick.
Central Scouting rates OHL defencemen Zach Bogosian of the Peterborough Petes and Drew Doughty of the Guelph Storm second and third among North American skaters. McGuire believes OHL blueliners tend to be a good mix of the offensive flair the QMJHL is known for combined with the defensive responsibility seen in WHL rearguards.
"There isn't much of a difference, but the OHL defencemen are a bit more offensive than WHL defencemen," said McGuire. "Yann Sauve, who is our top-rated QMJHL defenceman, is an offensive defenceman and plays in an offensive league. Bogosian and Doughty do have more offensive flair than (WHL defencemen) Luke Schenn and Tyler Myers, who are bigger defencemen who tend to concentrate on play in their own zone and the physical aspect of the game."
Scouts tend to think the WHL is a rougher league than the OHL, but they still believe OHL defencemen have what it takes to be superior NHL players. Perhaps that is because since the OHL is a higher-scoring league, OHL defenders are facing stiffer competition. Among top forwards in this year's draft class are OHL players Stamkos, centre Cody Hodgson of the Brampton Battalion (ranked No. 9 among North American skaters by Central Scouting) and Kitchener Rangers left wing Mikkel Boedker (No. 11).
"The QMJHL has the stereotype of being more offensive and the WHL has the reputation of being harder-hitting and more defensive, but the OHL gets the reputation of being a combination of both," said McGuire. "The QMJHL has produced the most goalies because they take the most shots in a game. It is much more common for each team to have 35 shots each in QMJHL game as opposed to a WHL or OHL game. More of the shots in the WHL could come off power plays and crashing the net for rebounds. The OHL is somewhere in between the two leagues — not just geographically, but also in the style of play."
The lack of a transfer agreement between the NHL and the hockey-playing European countries also could help the draft status of OHL players. For example, Nikita Filatov
, the top-rated European skater, could slide in the first round due to forces outside his control. Teams may opt to draft more North Americans to avoid any potential signability issues.Author: Adam Schwartz | NHL.com Staff Writer