Sting seeking Stamkos repeat

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

Welcome to Sarnia, young man.

You're the first overall pick of Saturday's OHL draft. The Sting and its fans are happy to have you here at the RBC Centre.

Good news. They've been through all this before.

Sarnia had the No. 1 selection four years ago, too.

They took hard-shooting forward Steve Stamkos from the Markham Waxers.

How'd he make out? Well, he scored 100 goals in two years.

He led the team to its first playoff series victory in over a decade by manhandling the Windsor Spitfires, who haven't lost a post-season round since.

He earned first-pick status in the NHL draft. Now, he's the best goal-scorer in hockey.

But hey, kid, don't worry about that. Go do your thing.

No pressure, right?

Dave MacQueen knows what's in store for the player he introduces Friday afternoon at the Sting's pre-draft press conference -- be it one of the International Scouting Service's anticipated top three: Chicago's Alex Galchenyuk, defenceman Nick Ebert or Toronto Marlies standout Matia Marcantuoni.

The Sarnia Sting GM and head coach has been at the helm of an OHL team for 14 years. He's only directed one first overall pick -- Stamkos.

He knows after a steady diet of filet mignon, it's hard for some to stomach anything of lesser quality.

"I think it would be unfair for people to compare like that and expect another Steve Stamkos," MacQueen said. "Those kind of players only come around every so often. You're talking about a young guy here. What we do expect is to get a player who can come in and contribute to our team right away in his first year."

Finding the right match is always an interesting dance.

The most important step is identifying the elite skaters.

Sometimes, it's a slam dunk.

Four years ago, six of the top 20 picks turned into legitimate junior stars. Stamkos, Michael Del Zotto and Alex Pietrangelo went 1-2-3. Cody Hodgson, Nazem Kadri and Zach Bogosian went 17-18-19.

All but Hodgson have already played NHL games. This year's draft isn't expected to be like that one.

"In 2006, you had some real high-end guys early on," MacQueen said. "This draft might not have those top players but there are several with the potential to be very good in our league. By November, we tried to narrow it down to about a half-dozen that we would continue to follow, and as you go along, you want to see if someone steps up and separates himself from the rest."

MacQueen couldn't watch their every move. He holds the Sting's GM and coaching roles.

Until Sarnia officially missed the playoffs, a lot of the bird-dog leg-work fell to Chatham's Jim Debenham, the club's head scout, and his six-man staff.

Once the player ranking was done and the team list drawn up, negotiations begin with No. 1.

"In that sense, the No. 1 pick's a little easier because you can have the player you want signed, sealed and delivered by the draft," MacQueen said. "After that, it can get interesting. There are still players who have certain teams they want to play for, their agents get involved and you have to wade your way through all that.

"You want the kid who wants to play hockey no matter where he goes. That's the kind of character you're looking for and that's what Steve had. From the moment he showed up in Sarnia, he wanted to be a player. He wanted to make the guys around him better."

That quality is non-negotiable.

Neither, on the team's end, is surrounding the blue-chip pick with talent. That was rebuilding Sarnia's season-long ambition.

"This year was about recouping those draft picks we had lost and getting a lot of young guys on the ice into situations that'll help them grow for the future," MacQueen said.

The first pick is a major building block. But it's not everything.

The player has to be put in a position to succeed. He has to want to stay the course through rebuilding into contention.

Look at some past first picks.

Rob Schremp won a Memorial Cup and OHL scoring title -- but only after Mississauga dealt him to London.

John Tavares became the league's goal king -- after Oshawa traded him to the Knights.

"You want your first pick to stay (his entire OHL career)," MacQueen said, "whether it's a couple of years or three or four."

Stamkos stayed in Sarnia only two seasons. Ryan O'Reilly, Erie's No. 1 and expected Otter cornerstone this year, stuck with the Colorado Avalanche this year.

There are few guarantees.

"You always want a player who will have a positive impact on your team," MacQueen said.


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