Knights have competition in restocking at draft

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

Saturday, the Ontario Hockey League will hold its draft.

It's really a meat market in which the 20 OHL teams meet and divvy up the top 15-year-old players throughout Ontario and selected areas of the United States.

This is where teams with the best scouting and management system usually go to reload allowing them to remain near the top every season.

The London Knights have 12 picks this year. They don't have a second, fifth or eighth and will pick second-last, 19th overall, in the first round.

They've picked up some additional late-round picks but when you consider what they gave up for John Tavares and other players, those numbers aren't bad. They have four picks in the first six rounds, when you normally expect the kids selected to eventually become impact players.

Hockey people will tell you that every draft is important but this is one is extra so for the Knights, who need to find a number of players.

The Knights have managed to make the most of what they've selected in previous years. They've become successful by taking risks, drafting talented players other teams have passed on and then convincing them to come to London and play. It isn't always immediate but the list of players who weren't supposed to come but did, is impressive, including Pat Kane and Sam Gagner.

But the competition for those kinds of players is stiffening. The Knights were able to offer benefits other teams might not have been able to match. There was a new building, hefty education packages and a successful franchise that could almost guarantee a long playoff run and plenty of exposure.

Some teams could compete with the education packages and the success, but few could offer all three.

That's changing quickly.

The OHL landscape is becoming dotted with teams that have new facilities and now have money to offer the same kind of incentives as the Knights.

Other cities are now attractive destinations for a player who isn't sure whether he wants to be in the OHL or not.

That's why this draft is essential.

"Every draft is important," Knights general manager Mark Hunter said. "This one is no more important than the others. We have some uncertainty with players like Tinordi, Balisy and Clendening but they can play."

Adam Clendening, Jarred Tinordi and Chasen Balisy were all drafted last year, the same draft that yielded Christian Thomas, John Carlson and Jared Knight. But those three are playing in the U.S. and there's no guarantee they will be here. Thomas was traded and Carlson is gone after only one year.

It could be a great draft or . . .

Junior hockey people often talk about a cycle. A team usually builds toward a championship over a three-year period. In the fourth year, it's expected the level will drop off because of graduating players and the need to rebuild.

The Knights went through some of this in 2007, when both Pat Kane and Sam Gagner made the NHL has 18-year-olds.

But even with those unexpected losses, the Knights remained competitive because they have been able to somehow plug the holes created. In some cases, it was by signing free agents. In others, by attracting players to the OHL no one thought would come to play.

But the draft remains the major component in building a team and staying competitive. A bad draft may not hurt you the first year, but you'll feel it two and three years down the road.

The Knights will remain competitive next year. They'll bring back some good overage players and with players like Nazem Kadri, Phil Varone and Michael Del Zotto coming back, they'll survive.

But the players they'll get Saturday must contribute a little next year and a lot the year after or short of general manager Mark Hunter performing another miracle or two, it's going to be a lean year.

Two years ago the Knights drafted Michael Zador, Scott Valentine, Barron Smith and Michael MacDonald in the first four rounds. They got Daniel Erlich in the seventh round. Erlich was a steal and Hunter believes MacDonald is ready to play but as of yet -- yet being the operative word -- the draft has yielded nothing else except for trade bait.

That's the kind of stuff that catches up to you.

That's why Saturday the Knights need to be as good in the boardroom as they've been on the ice.


Videos

Photos