UTURNS: OHL Draft 2021 The Year of Discontent

Wellington Dukes

Feature photo by Shawn Muir OJHL Images

The year of discontent and Do We need a Cricket Grounds in Belleville? I say yes!

By Randy Uens May 27, 2021

The past year has not been easy for anyone in the hockey community, especially in Ontario. The complete shutdown of hockey has left players anxious to play, parents worried about their child’s development and teams struggling to navigate recruitment and player evaluations. 

The upcoming OHL Draft is the lightning rod for all of this discontent. Start with unsubstantiated  rumours of back door dealings between agents and teams or innuendo of nefarious and back handed recruitment deals mixed in with a double dose of the usual pre draft fragility with families, and you have a perfect storm? 

 What should a family do? Sign on with one of the many “Scouting Insider” websites?, start promotional videos from random training skates and plaster over social media? … show video of your kid doing box jumps in the basement?, call someone….anyone?? 

 First of all, take a deep breath. I’m not undervaluing anyone’s overall concerns but the reality is that this is not the time to over react to the circumstances these players are in. The message is that this is but one stop in a very long and winding journey that will have more than its usual paths this year for these players than many other years. 

Teams recognize that they are up against an impossible task. Not only do you have limited viewings and you are basing a lot on the stats from a year ago, you have a “snake draft” that sees teams picking #1 not picking again till #40. The #20 pick will get the #21 pick as well as the #1 Euro pick. (Congrats to Barrie on that horseshoe luck) 

This type of draft has led teams to realize that there will be a lot of good players available in middle rounds. They also know that many of the late picks may be extremely undervalued and some of the higher picks may be overvalued. Teams that I have talked to are spending extra time on the background checks of players. Work ethic and personality traits are as important as perceived skill sets. 

Players will be drafted higher and lower than they should be for sure. The other fact is that there will be a number of good players completely missed in this draft. It happens in every draft, but it is going to happen a lot in this one. The development from bantam to midget is exponential in many kids and to be missed in this year’s draft is inevitable if you were unable to highlight those gains in comparable situations. 

For transparency I need to clear up any perceived biases or representations I make that people may view as opportunistic or promoting my self interests. I am involved in the OJHL and yes we compete with players with the OHL. The Wellington Dukes have a strong history of moving players to the OHL as well as the NCAA. My son chose NCAA over the OHL but that does not mean I am against that path for players. Each player has to find their own path. 

And finally, there is a Uens in the draft, Cal, and he is not my son but a cousin. He will choose his own path and not be influenced by our family’s decisions. 

Once again the Quinte area has a great crop of potential draft picks. A strong group that could go as high as the 1st round in a few cases and many more in the upper half of the draft. But what if things don’t work out? What if things are not looking that promising right now? 

I want to relay the message that being drafted late or not being drafted at all, especially this year, is not a negative outcome. It should be viewed as an opportunity. You have to understand the way the 16 year old year of these players works. 

Each OHL team can keep four 16 year old players on their roster. OJHL teams are allowed 2 (can apply for more via a card allocation process) as are junior B, while  Junior C teams are allowed 1 each. This extremely limits the number of available spots for 16 year old players to play junior hockey. 

There are rules and guidelines around the amount of play that these players are required to receive but each situation is different. The key thing is the players need to play. The more they play the better. Because the OHL draft will have so many hit and misses, the view by many is that not as many 16 year old players will make OHL teams this year as would usually make it. 

Many players will need more development and more playing time. This means that this upcoming season may be one of the best major midget (U18) years on record. Scouts will be scouring midget to look for kids that were overlooked. U18 AAA hockey is a fantastic option that many players and families do not fully appreciate. Everyone is eager to move to the next level but this year it may be the best option to be seen by scouts. 

NCAA teams are loving the fact that this glitch in the OHL recruiting machine may allow more players to slip through and give them a better chance of landing a top end talent that may have traditionally chosen the OHL route. More and more players are choosing the NCAA route and with so much upheaval with this year’s draft, the NCAA recruiters are expecting a bumper crop of recruits to be available with the 05 age group. 

The decision to take a 16 year old card in the OJHL or junior B or C is not to be taken lightly. Are the junior teams skating everyday? Who are the coaches? Do they have strength and conditioning coaches? Do they have skill providers attached to the teams?  What is the makeup of the team? What is the culture like? All of these questions need to be evaluated. Leaving your 16 year old son with a team of Junior C  men, who could be as old as 21, may pay dividends, but if the culture is off, it could be detrimental. 

My final take is, trust the process. Getting drafted to the OHL is a proud moment for players and family. It’s a milestone to be cherished and celebrated. It identifies achievement but it also needs to be looked at as the starting line. It’s not how good you are at 16, it’s how good you are at 21. Players need to play and develop. Players need to want it more than the next guy to get better. And sometimes, you need to find that situation where someone believes in you. This year more players will get that “free agent” feeling and find that perfect route for them 

Best of luck to everyone.

Tip of the Week

This one goes out to the Belleville City Council and Recreation Department. At the Mary Anne Sills track this past week I saw a group of guys playing cricket. Cricket traditionally plays on an oval field with a small “pitch” area where the bowler throws the ball towards the wickets. Hard ground is needed to bounce the ball towards the wicket. These guys were using the track as the pitch area than batting out into the field. They were forced to stop the game continuously as track users were passing through their game. Not the most convenient for either party. Cricket grounds are not too conducive to multi purpose uses except for maybe Australian Rules football. I suggest that the changing demographics locally warrant a stand-alone cricket grounds be established. I have previously suggested that the old Quinte Raceway was a great spot for an outdoor rink near where the new YMCA is going. I now would add that a cricket ground should be included in that proposal. I know I will go watch!