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When 67’s GM James Boyd wakes up Saturday morning for a very unique OHL Priority Selection, he’ll grab a coffee and turn on what will resemble a modern-day version of an old game show.
Instead of movie and TV stars, he’ll see on the big screen his scouts and coaches, each of whom will also be in their own home offices. If not for this week’s emergency order issued by the Ontario government prohibiting public or social gatherings of more than five people, the whole lot of them would be meeting at TD Place hockey offices for the draft.
“It will be like Hollywood Squares,” said Boyd, who will ultimately submit on-line the 67’s picks. “We’ll be able to interact, you can still argue for your guys, pound tables and all the stuff that happens in the draft … with some of the banter that goes on with the scouts, it will feel like Hollywood Squares.
“It will be a little bit different. It’ll be effective, we’ll be able to do it. It’ll just be no fun.”
Boyd has scouts that watch 300 games a season. When a player from their region is selected, it’s the culmination of all his efforts. It’s a big deal.
The team calls the player, who is often the centre of attention at a party in his house full of relatives, friends, neighbours and old minor coaches. COVID-19 is crushing that tradition this year, just as it is the post-draft shindig for the scouts, coaches and management team.
“There’s a lot of hard work, there’s a lot of tension,” said Boyd. “The draft is fun in itself, and the dinner after the draft is my highlight every season.
“We’re just going to have to plan to have the dinner when we can.”
Meanwhile, Boyd is confident the 67’s will have good reason to celebrate. By virtue of owning the OHL’s best record when coronavirus ended the season with a half dozen games left on the schedule, they have the last pick (20th overall) in the first round.
The 67’s own Hamilton’s second round pick (26th) overall, but not their own.
They have their third, Windsor’s fourth, two in the fifth (including North Bay’s, which kicks off the round), none in the sixth and then all of their own from rounds 7-15.
“I think our scouts did a great job all year long … we’re comfortable,” said Boyd.
“I think we’ve got a really good read on the bulk of the players.
“We’ll have to read and react when it gets to pick 20 but we’ve got some flexibility, because we’ve got depth up front and we’ve got depth on the back end. The fact we had two 16-year-old and two 17-year-old defencemen playing regularly this past year, it’s not a crisis if we don’t draft a defenceman. Same thing for the forwards. We’ve got some good forwards returning. Having Graeme Clarke out with an injury last year, coming back next year … Dylan Robinson, the same thing. We’ve got some pieces there to work with, so we’re able to take the best player and then we’ll adjust as the draft moves along.
“In the last couple of drafts, the last number of years, our scouts have done a great job of identifying players in the second and third round, guys that have come in and been key contributors on our team. They have a good read on it. So we’re optimistic we’re going to be able to get some players that we’re really excited about with those early picks.”
Predicting the first round is difficult. Projected to go first overall was Adam Fatilli, but the former Toronto Jr. Canadiens centre has advised all OHL teams he has committed to play for the USHL’s Chicago Steel next season. Rather than take a chance on him changing his mind, the North Bay Battalion announced Friday they will take Jr. Canadiens defenceman Ty Nelson.
Meanwhile, there’s a contingent of 10-12 top-level American prospects who were hoping to make the U.S. National Development team program but are now on the outside looking in, studying their options. Their current state of indecisiveness will “influence the top two rounds, for sure,” said Boyd, adding that the U.S. National Development team should dominate the first round of the NHL draft in two years the same way the CHL will this season.
An American-born player headed to the OHL that Ottawa hockey fans might recognize and make note of is Colton Smith, the 16-year old son of Senators coach D.J. Smith. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound winger was born in Hershey, Pa. but is now living with his dad and playing for the Kanata Lasers.
Smith is projected as a fourth-rounder in the OHL draft ranking.
“I’ve seen him play a bunch of times, he’s a good player,” said Boyd. “He’s a playmaker. He’s a little bit like D.J. at the same age — he’s rambunctious. But he’s got good hockey sense. You can tell he grew up around professional hockey players. He’s got the swagger to him. It’s going to be interesting to follow his development, for sure.”
TOP CLASS PERSON
The suspense was killed Friday afternoon when the North Bay Battalion announced Ty Nelson will be their first overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection.
Nelson, a 5-foot-8, 174-pounder who turned 16 last Monday, is a swift-skating, puck-moving defenceman who led the Toronto Jr. Canadiens to the GTHL title with one goal and 11 assists in 11 playoff games.
He was also the league’s top scoring blue liner during the regular season, with 33 points (11 goals) in 33 games.
“Nelson is a competitive kid,” said 67’s GM James Boyd. “He’s a power play quarterback, he’s a leader in his age group. He’s a good player. That’s an excellent pick.”
Nelson is the third defenceman to get picked first overall in the last seven seasons. The other two were Jacob Chychrun and Ryan Merkley.
“Getting to know Ty and his family, we know that we’re bringing a top class person into our dressing room,” said Battalion GM Adam Dennis. “He’s somebody that can really add to what we’re building here.”
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