Draft eyes on the 'O'

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:39 AM ET

Alex Pietrangelo has come up with a sound plan for the 2008 NHL entry draft in Ottawa this June.

And though the Niagara IceDogs defenceman was joking, what he said makes sense.

"I think they're going to have to add more seats in Ottawa (at Scotiabank Place)," Pietrangelo said. "There is going to be a ton of support from family and friends for all of us there."

Fitting that the draft is in Ontario because hockey types are having a hard time remembering such a strong crop of eligible players who skate in the Ontario Hockey League.

In turn, the 2008 draft is expected to produce more solid National Hockey League players than usual -- and remember that if John Tavares had been born five days earlier, he would be part of this group as well.

GODS SMILED

But there's more if you're a hockey fan in the Greater Toronto Area: Whether it was something in the water in late 1989 and through the first nine months of 1990, or the hockey gods smiled down on that period and decided the NHL would be a prime beneficiary of some of the boys born then, the GTA stands to have excellent representation when NHL teams start calling names in the first round on June 20.

NHL director of central scouting E.J. McGuire would not be surprised if OHL players were taken with the first four picks.

Nothing comparable has happened since 1990, when Owen Nolan (Cornwall Royals) was selected first by the Quebec Nordiques, with Keith Primeau (Niagara Falls Thunder) and Mike Ricci (Peterborough Petes) going third and fourth, respectively, to the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers. Petr Nedved, who had defected and was playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, was chosen second by the Vancouver Canucks.

At this point, few would argue that centre Steven Stamkos of the Sarnia Sting, who will help represent Canada at the world junior championship starting in a few days, won't go first overall. Defenceman Drew Doughty, a member of the Guelph Storm and also a participant for Canada, has had a hold on the No. 2 spot, but he could be challenged by Pietrangelo and another defenceman, the Petes' Zach Bogosian.

"I think we're at a high-water mark (in Ontario) which might drop back as quickly as next year," McGuire said. "It's that ebb and flow that happens. Having said that, I think it is time for the casual fan to get out and see these guys, the Stamkoses and the Doughtys and the others. The next time people see them will be on their TVs when they are in the NHL."

Brampton Battalion centre Cody Hodgson and Oshawa Generals defenceman Michael Del Zotto also will have a strong chance at cracking the top 10. And though there are fine players from other parts of the planet -- Russian forward Nikita Filatov, Kelowna Rockets defenceman Luke Schenn and Everett Silvertips centre Kyle Beach to name a few -- none share the bond of the GTA crew.

Among other connections, Pietrangelo and Del Zotto, the former recalled, go back to novice and atom together with the Richmond Hill Stars. Stamkos' father coached a summer team, the Ontario Blues, that had Stamkos, Pietrangelo, Del Zotto and Hodgson for a number of years (Hodgson remembered one loss in four years); and Stamkos, Del Zotto and Hodgson all wore the colours of the Markham Waxers. Sometimes, Doughty, who was born down the 401 in London, would be an opponent. Bogosian, as a native of Massena, N.Y., is more of an outsider.

Whether it's in person, text-messaging or on Facebook, a day rarely passes when there is not some form of communication among the GTA group.

"The atmosphere we have built among ourselves is pretty special," Hodgson said. "We're all friends and we love to compete against each other. It's such an international game, and to have so many guys who are from just down the road experiencing the same thing it is pretty special."

Stamkos concurred.

"It's a great thing that is happening," Stamkos said. "It's kind of hard to believe there are all these guys from the GTA. This is great not only for Ontario but for hockey in Canada. And I think it is going be a bit more special with the draft in Ottawa."

A RARITY

How rare is it for the Toronto area to produce such talent at the same time? Consider that the most recent GTA product to be picked among the top four players was Rick Nash of Brampton, who went first overall to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2002 draft at the Air Canada Centre. Since then, OHL players have cracked the top picks, but none have been from within shouting distance of the CN Tower.

The diversity of talent also puts Stamkos and his pals a notch above the rest. They've been crossing paths since they were kids, but they're hardly cut from the same hockey mould.

Stamkos is an offensive force; Hodgson is a fine two-way performer; Pietrangelo and Bogosian are big, controlling types; and Doughty, also excellent without the puck, and Del Zotto can bring it offensively.

"You have a little bit of everything and then some," Battalion director of hockey operations/coach Stan Butler said. "It's a big year, too, in the sense that some guys will go later because of the depth, and teams will be gettingguys further down who in other years would have been gone long ago."

THE BOTTOM LINE?

Pretty easy, figured Brad Selwood, Oshawa's general manager.

"You can't go wrong with any of these players," Selwood said. "It reminds me of two years ago when we took Michael (second overall in 2006). The group has shot ahead two years and now the NHL is going to get them. It's a great story."


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