14-year-olds shouldn't feel draft

DON WILCOX -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:30 AM ET

News this week that the OHL was considering allowing its non-playoff teams to draft what it terms "exceptional" 14-year-olds came as a sad shock. Thankfully, the league's governors did not even deign to vote on the proposal -- which would have allowed the four non-playoff teams to draft one 14-year-old apiece in the first round -- but you can bet it will arise again at some point.

The OHL is under intense pressure to draft younger players because of rivals such as the United States Hockey League, a junior loop increasingly competing with it for players and prestige. The USHL has no qualms about recruiting kids aged 14 or 15 and taking them hundreds, or thousands, of kilometres from home to play hockey.

The current case in point is hot prospect John Tavares, 14, of Oakville, who is being wooed by the USHL's team in Indianapolis. The OHL fears it could lose him for good, forfeiting both the marquee value of another young superstar -- if that's what Tavares becomes -- as well as the status of developing him into, hopefully, an NHLer.

Those are valid business concerns for the OHL.

But does Tavares, or any other 14-year-old, need to play junior? The moment you enter the junior realm, hockey becomes a business, and not everyone has the players' best interests in mind (though many would argue some minor hockey organizations aren't much different).

The bottom line here shouldn't be about business.

Are we really doing what's best for players like Tavares by allowing them to play as boys against men when there are viable alternatives? What is wrong with staying in minor hockey and playing in a level a year up ... most major midget programs will accept exceptional 15-year-olds, giving them better competition yet shielding them from the rigours of playing against people five years older?

Then, when they are better developed both physically and mentally, they can move up. The argument that you're stunting the development of a 14-year-old by not allowing him to get knocked around an arena by 20-year-olds is just plain stupid.

Please, don't try to argue otherwise. Most doctors don't even want kids lifting weights until they are 13 or 14. And we're talking now about allowing them to play junior?

If a kid is going to develop into a great hockey player, having him stay close to home to play minor hockey at age 14 is not likely to impede that. In fact, it's probably going to help in the long run.

It's common sense. Maybe not to those who are involved in running junior hockey. But it should be to parents, who have the power to end these ridiculous debates before they even start.

minorhockey@ott.sunpub.com


Videos

Photos