Bobby Ryan, Benoit Pouliot and Marc Staal have no affiliation with any NHL club but they're among a group of players who wish the lockout would end today.
Each of three are highly regarded prospects for an NHL entry draft that might not happen this year, and in a sense, they represent a faction of players who have been largely forgotten as the NHL and NHL Players' Association bicker.
"They have to get everything squared away with the players who are already there, and we're at the bottom of the list," said Ryan, an Owen Sound Attack winger who was chosen to play in the 2005 Ontario Hockey League game here in Owen Sound tonight but will sit out because of a shoulder injury. "It's disappointing for us, because if the draft gets pushed back, we will have to go through another draft year. It's nerve-wracking. Having to go through it again is something I am not looking forward to."
Neither are Pouliot and Staal, teammates with the Sudbury Wolves who will play tonight in the all-star game. Pouliot, in the mid-term rankings by NHL Central Scouting, was slotted at No. 2 in North America, behind only Sidney Crosby. But there will not be another draft until there is a new collective bargaining agreement in place. If that is not until sometime in 2006, which many figure will be the case, the group of prospects this year will compete with the crop that would have had the 2006 draft to themselves.
"If there is no draft, we are going to have to do the same things next year," said Pouliot, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound winger who has 52 points in 49 games for the Wolves. "There's lots of attention and lots of pressure. But it could be worse. There is going to be a draft at some point."
A younger brother of Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes, Staal is taking a pragmatic approach to the situation.
"You have to play like there is going to be a draft (at the normal time)," Staal said. "I have been waiting for the day to be drafted. I'm sure everything will work out, but everyone is going to be bigger and stronger and older next season. It will be a lot different (to endure another draft year)."
Even London Knights star Corey Perry is concerned for the prospects in limbo. Perry, a first-round choice by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2003, signed with the NHL team last September so his future is relatively set in stone.
"You have to feel for Bobby Ryan and other guys in this room who were thinking they were going to be drafted this year," Perry said. "They don't even know if there is going to be one and that can't be easy."