Harrington highlights draft change argument

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

W hen the London Knights entice Scott Harrington to come to play in London and the Ontario Hockey League, it will be yet another argument for those who want to see changes made to the OHL draft.

Last month, the Knights took Harrington with their first pick, No. 19 overall.

Depending on whom you talked to and which scouting site you wanted to believe, the big defenceman could have gone in the top five. Argument aside, he certainly shouldn't have fallen to the Knights at No. 19.

The fall had nothing to do with the erosion of Harrington's hockey ability. It had everything to do with playing the draft game.

Before teams conducted the draft, Harrington let it be known the career path he had chosen was going to wind its way through U.S. college. The message was relatively clear: don't waste a draft pick because the OHL is not an option.

If you are a team that either hasn't been particularly successful or plays in a location that isn't particularly attractive and needs a lot of help, you can't afford to use a high choice to select a player who isn't going to show up.

This isn't unusual. Every year, there seems to be at least one or two players who send out that kind of message.

Teams then have a choice of taking a risk by drafting the player and then work to convince him to show up.

It's easier, of course, if the player happens to land with a team that's attractive to him. Remarkably -- or maybe not so remarkably -- when Harrington was selected by the Knights, his stance on the OHL softened somewhat.

He was at the Knights mini-camp last weekend.

"He just told us he enjoyed the weekend and everything was OK and that we'd talk again," Knights general manager Mark Hunter said.

The Knights will eventually sign him and he will play in London. For someone with a goal of playing in the NHL sooner rather than later, the situation is too attractive.

The Knights have gone this route before. They've drafted talented players who have stated they will play elsewhere rather than the OHL. Not willing to handle the risk, other teams pass on those players. The Knights record of bringing them into the fold is remarkable.

The underlying theory, of course, is that the best teams are able to cook up deals.

OHL commissioner David Branch said the league has made a conscious effort to make sure no one is fooling with the system and has installed substantial fines for anyone caught doing it.

The league's interest, though, is to sell the league so that the best players want to come here. What city they play in is of little concern to the league as long as they pick the OHL.

There has been a suggestion that in order to level the playing field, players should declare whether they will play in the OHL or not and if they indicate they won't they should be made ineligible for the draft.

The league isn't going to pass a rule that shuts the door on some of the best young players.

The Knights aren't the only team that has been successful in getting players who aren't sure what they want to do. Kitchener, Windsor and Plymouth have all done a good job as well.

It would be wonderful if the playing field was level, but it isn't.

If my 15-year-old kid were leaving home to play hockey, I'd want to put him in the best situation possible.

Hearing the same old complaints about teams cooking up deals gets tiring. For some teams, it's a convenient excuse for not being smart enough, not risking enough and not working hard enough to get better. It's far easier to blame a failure in the system rather than an organization's own inadequacies.

It wasn't that long ago that the Knights were an organization in distress. London wasn't an attractive place to play.

The Hunters built this organization one step at a time though hard work, good decision- making and taking risks.

It's a formula available to every other team in hockey.

If the end result means a team has certain advantages to offer, then so be it.


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