Local expectations high after great year

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

The London Junior Knights had six of the top 44 players selected in last year's Ontario Hockey League priority draft.

When you toss in players selected from the Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs, local flavour created quite a splash in the OHL pool.

"Six of the top 44, that's once every 10 years," Junior Knights president Joe O'Neill said.

"I think we'll probably have seven or eight kids drafted this time. But they won't be top rounds like last year."

Brian Noyes was president of the Chiefs this past season.

"There's some really good kids out there," said Noyes, whose son Greg is expected to be drafted.

"We have eight to 10 kids ranked in the draft. They might not all get drafted, but they're on the list."

The Sarnia Sting will have the first pick in the draft. There is no player who falls in the exceptional player category this year. Last year, the Oshawa Generals used the rule to select John Tavares.

It's expected the Sting will choose one of two Markham Waxers players -- either defenceman Michael Del Zotto or forward Steve Stamkos.

"We haven't made a decision yet," Sting general manager Alan Millar said.

It's a big choice for a franchise that's missed the playoffs the last two years and hasn't won a playoff round in seven years.

The Sting are also without a coach after firing Shawn Camp. Former Erie Otters coach Dave MacQueen is considered the front-runner for the job.

"We have no plans to announce a new coach," Millar said.

Look for defenceman Alex Pietrangelo of the Toronto Junior Canadiens to go quickly after those two.

What happens then is anyone's guess. It might depend on whether anyone will risk selecting U.S. forward Philip McRae, son of former Knight Basil McRae, who is also a minority owner in the Knights.

Indications are his son will remain with the U.S. national team program.

What are the London Knights going to do? They pick 20th and might have to make a decision on McRae if other teams shy away from him.

The Knights have been burned in the past by drafting players in that situation.

In 2004, they selected Americans Pat Kane and Kevin Montgomery in the fifth round. Both still play south of the border. Last year, they drafted Sam Gagner in the fourth round and he failed to report.

Mark Hunter is working to get them to come, but so far that hasn't happened.

"I don't like to take chances with a first-round pick," Hunter said.

Basil McRae said he's had lots of calls from OHL teams.

"It's a risk for whoever drafts him," he said of his son. "In St. Louis, we have 29 kids playing Division 1 hockey and two in the OHL. He doesn't know much about the OHL. He knows more about the NCAA.

"He's made a commitment to play for at least one, maybe two, more years with the national program. We feel very loyal to it. He loves it there."

The Knights made a deal Tuesday, giving up a third-round pick in 2007 for a fourth-round pick Saturday.

The prized possessions in the draft are blue-liners.

Two local defenceman likely to go as soon as the third round are Junior Knight Jordan O'Neill and the Chiefs' Brian Shaw from Aylmer. Noyes, another defenceman, likely will go in the first five rounds.

But the player most are touting to be the first local to be drafted is Junior Knight forward Nazem Kadri.

"He has good size and soft hands," Joe O'Neill said. "And he's a pretty tough kid."

Other Junior Knights who'll get a look-see include defenceman Travis Gibbons and forwards Jamie Commerford and Cody Lindsay, a smaller player who can score.

The Chiefs who will likely find a spot in the draft are Tyler Carroll, a forward from Strathroy; Ilderton forward Mike Ryan; former Knight Reggie Thomas's son, Dylan, a forward from Lambeth; and Dorchester's Marcus Pepe.


Photos