OHL draft spells anxiety for Hunters

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

The next few days will be anxious ones for the Hunter hockey family.

London Knights' general manager Mark Hunter will be anxious because he has the challenge of preparing for the Ontario Hockey League priority draft being held Saturday. Hunter will be looking to restock his Memorial Cup championship team.

Both he and his brother, coach Dale Hunter, will be anxious because Dale's son, Tucker, is eligible for the draft and in the Hunter family tradition, they'd like him to play for their team.

Mark also will be on edge because his son Garrett also is eligible for the draft.

And oh yes, there is a hockey game to worry about for the hockey fathers as the Knights open their OHL final series against the Peter- borough Petes tomorrow night at the John Labatt Centre.

Meanwhile, there is one other "family connection" that could play into Saturday's draft.

Basil McRae's son, Philip, is rated as a Top 5 pick. But no one is sure he would show up to play for the team that drafted him. He lives in St. Louis and is with the United States national team program.

Basil McRae is a former NHLer, a former Knight and a current minority owner of the Knights.

The Knights have drafted family before.

Knights' captain, Dylan Hunter, is Dale's son. Previous drafts included Logan Hunter and Rick Steadman, nephews of the coach and general manager.

What makes things intriguing is the Knights draft position.

The Knights will pick 20th. They are without a second- or third-round pick.

That's one reason Hunter will be working the phones. The lack of a second- or third-round pick will make it difficult for the Knights to draft Tucker, who played this year with the London Junior Knights.

While the public line is that Tucker is a fourth- or later-round draft choice, people who have watched him suggest he's a good player who has improved as the season progressed. Sources say he may not last through the third round.

If the Knights want him, they might have to find some way to obtain a second- or third-round pick.

Hunter may also have to deal with the McRae issue.

It wouldn't be the first time a top player scared teams away with the suggestion he wouldn't show up and then suddenly had a change of heart when a team he likes selected him.

"McRae is a Top 5 pick," a source said. "But he has dual citizenship and if he doesn't go to a team that he likes, he'll play in the under-17 program in the States."

Basil McRae admits he's in a awkward position because of his connection with the Hunters.

"I can tell you that whoever drafts Philip, and that includes the Knights, is taking a risk," he said from St. Louis. "Philip's thinking is he was born in the States and always played in the States. That's what he's always been leaning towards."

What would Mark Hunter do if Philip McRae was still around when the No. 20 pick came up? After all, he is almost family.

"I don't know. He's a good player. I don't mind taking a chance in the fifth round," Hunter said. "I don't take any chances with a first rounder. We'll wait and see what happens."

The Knights have a better chance of getting Garrett because he's a "mid-draft" pick.

"He's got that Hunter-thing going," a scout said. "He (Garrett) knows how to play. He plays hard, with a lot of energy and work ethic."

It all adds up to an interesting few days for all the Hunters.


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