November 11, 2009
These days, rookies come ready to play
By DOUG GRAHAM, SUN MEDIA
KINGSTON -- It's the mid-term period at universities, a time when first-year students start finding out how well they are adjusting to education at a higher level.
The Ontario Hockey League doesn't have mid-terms, but as teams approach the one-third mark in the season's 68-game schedule, it's a good time to assess the first-round picks from last May's draft.
The reviews -- from the top two forwards, Daniel Catenacci of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Alan Quine of the Kingston Frontenacs, to 19th selection defenceman Scott Harrington of the London Knights -- have been impressive.
Jeff Twohey, veteran general manager of the Peterborough Petes, sees the preparation of the elite minor midget players as far different from what it was 20 years ago.
"These kids come in now and they are much more prepared. They don't come in as immature 16-year-olds. They play at a more mature level and because of that they are ready to contribute right away," Twohey said.
"For the most part, everybody in the Eastern Conference has (first rounders) who are all contributing."
In the East, Boone Jenner (of Dorchester) in Oshawa, Quine in Kingston, Matt Puempel in Peterborough, Ryan Strome in Barrie and Barclay Goodrow in Brampton all have shown well.
"The majority of them are playing on the power play and taking regular shifts," Frontenacs general manager Larry Mavety said. "Every year you hear them say 'the draft isn't as deep as last year.' But when it all comes down to it, it was, in fact, a very good draft."
In the Western Conference, Harrington is logging up to 20 minutes a game on London's blue-line since coming back from a broken wrist in an exhibition game.
Harrington, after his Greater Kingston Junior Frontenacs minor midget club had been eliminated, played 21 games for the Tier I Junior A Kingston Voyageurs, a team that advanced all the way to the national semifinals.
"Scotty's a good player. He's the real deal," Knights general manager Mark Hunter said.
"Even when he missed time with the injury, he has been able to come in and play right away."
Hunter has been impressed by some of the other first rounders he sees regularly in Western Conference games -- including Ryan Murphy of Kitchener, Garrett Meurs of Plymouth and Brett Ritchie of Sarnia.
"This is a tough league to play in," he said. "It is true that it does show the depth of the talent in (minor hockey)."
The Petes are very happy with Puempel, who leads all first-rounders with nine goals in 21 games.
"He is really good on and off the ice," Twohey said. "He's just a really positive kid who has a joy for playing the game. He's a fun kid to have around."
Quine, Jenner and Meurs all have 14 points.
Quine missed half of last season with a broken ankle but the Frontenacs saw a lot of things to like about the speedy forward, who has been compared to a young Steve Yzerman.
"We saw him at the OHL Cup and in Tier II (for the Toronto Jr. Canadians in the playoffs). He wasn't 100% but he still didn't look out of place," Mavety said.
"The big thing with (Quine) is that he knows the game."
The Barrie Colts addressed their need on defence in Monday's trade with the Saginaw Spirit. The Colts acquired two solid 19-year-old defencemen, Nick Crawford and T.J. Brodie. It did cost Barrie two of their good younger players, skilled defenceman Ryan O'Connor and forward Michael Sgarbossa.
The Colts see themselves and the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors as the Eastern Conference powers, so it can't hurt that they've added experience for a run at the OHL final.
The motive for Spirit general manager Todd Watson's move isn't as clear. In fact, there's a mixed message to it.
Yes, Saginaw did upgrade its talent for the future. But with a 10-4-2 record in the West Division, second to the Windsor Spitfires, a deal for a younger player at this stage is intriguing.
Is Saginaw, along with others in the West, saying the Spitfires are too good to be caught this year?
There is speculation defenceman Sam Lofquist's departure from the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers will lead him to the OHL, most likely in Kitchener, where a couple of his former teammates with the U.S. development team, Jeremy Morin and Brandon Maxwell, are playing.
The six-foot-two, 205-pound Wisconsin native went undrafted in the OHL.
Doug Graham is a sports columnist for Sun Media Newspapers.