It's funny how that draft thing works

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

You could see that coming from a mile away, make that as far as St. Louis.

The London Knights got their man Saturday in the Ontario Hockey League priority draft.

Call it a miracle. Call it great planning. Call it good luck. Call it perfecting the hockey art form of spreading misinformation but the Knights got Philip McRae, a player rated as one of the top five players available to OHL teams, with the No. 20 pick.

Oh, how can this happen? (he asks with tongue in cheek.)

The machinations aren't that complicated because this type of thing is not uncommon. In fact, it's probably a lot rarer having a draft come and go without some player telling teams he won't report and then when a team he really wanted to play for all along drafts him, he suddenly likes the idea of playing in the league. It's happened many times before. In fact, part of the process now is calling a pick to make sure he'll report if indeed a team drafts him.

The draft process isn't supposed to work that way.

McRae is a fine prospect from St. Louis and plays in the United States national team program. A player of his calibre would never be available in the No. 20 spot. In truth, all things considered it would have been a surprise if he'd gone past the No. 5 pick.

But father Basil is a former London Knight and a minority owner of the team. He was in the Knights' war room as the draft was taking place. The word had circulated well in advance of the draft that anyone drafting Philip was taking a chance that he wouldn't show up to play, preferring to stay with the national team program.

Knights' general manager Mark Hunter said before the draft he didn't like to risk his first pick to draft someone who might not show up.

So, when the Knights announced that, with the No. 20 pick, they would pick Philip McRae, you don't have to be an expert in reading tea leaves to figure out what the future holds.

Everyone said the right things about young McRae still having a decision to make, that he still had a year's commitment to the national team program, that "I still COULD (writer's emphasis) go back there and come to London the following year."

It would be a shock of immense proportions if McRae didn't come here next year.

Let's be clear. There isn't one team in the OHL who wouldn't have done the same thing if they were in the Knights' position. General managers complain long and hard about players manipulating the draft. But do they ever push to change it?

"This isn't really a draft," said one general manager. "It's a recruitment centre. You recruit your top drafts and then you fill in the rest."

So why does everyone do it?

"Because no one wants to be second-class citizens," said another general manager. "You have to compete."

But this does create second-class citizens. Some teams have more difficulty recruiting because of their location, lack of competitiveness or because they play in a dumpy facility. So the very thing the draft was supposed to do, give weaker teams a shot at the best players, winds up doing the opposite.

"This will be addressed at the league meetings," the general manager said.

This really is an Ontario Hockey League issue.

It needs to ensure the draft does what it's supposed to and that's giving the worse teams access to the best talent.

That might mean protecting teams that take a player who threatens not to report by offering compensation if he doesn't show up, while making sure the player recognizes the team who selected him will continue to own his rights. There are ways to prevent manipulation of the draft.

So far, the league hasn't shown much interest because all it really cares about is getting the best players to play in the OHL, no matter how that happens.

If that attitude doesn't change, nothing else will either.


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