IceDogs primed for OHL draft
The Niagara IceDogs selected Akil Thomas in the 2016 draft with the 12th pick in the first round. The IceDogs select 12th in this year’s draft which will be held Saturday. Photo by OHL IMAGES
Joey Burke can’t wait for the Ontario Hockey League draft Saturday.
The general manager of the Niagara IceDogs has been meeting, scouting, cross verifying and planning for months for the draft which begins at 9 a.m. and is available to follow live at ontariohockeyleague.com.
“It’s the most fun part of the year for me. It really is my Super Bowl. It’s the biggest day of the season for me,” Burke said.
Burke feels the organization is more than ready for the draft which sees Niagara select 12th in the first round.
“March and leading into the draft is my most hectic time of the year, but it’s extremely exciting because of how well prepared we are for it,” Burke added. “We have our main plans, our back up plans, our lists. We’re going to be meeting all week on it.
“I’m ready. I wish the draft was tomorrow because we’re ready to go.”
Burke says the IceDogs have several plans in place for the first round.
It is widely assumed the Sudbury Wolves will select centre Quinton Byfield from the York-Simcoe Express with the first overall pick while the Flint Firebirds are expected to take defenceman Jamie Drysdale from the Toronto Marlies.
After that, it’s anybody’s guess.
“We’ll identify a guy who we feel will be there in our range,” Burke said. “We have all agreed on what our main plan is. We’ve got a list of five to 10 guys we are extremely comfortable with. We have them ranked and we know who is going to be there for us.”
Burke feels there is an incredible amount of talent available this year.
“The top-end talent is immense, there’s a big drop off from the top five or six to the next tier,” he said. “While it is a deep draft, we’re hoping we get one of the guys we identified as the top five or six overall players.”
The IceDogs traded their second-round selection to the London Knights in the Sam Miletic deal, but do have Sudbury’s selection in the third round which is first in that round. The IceDogs also have two fourth-round selections and two in the 14th as well as one in every other of the 15 rounds.
“We’re extremely comfortable with the depth of the draft we’re going to get a heck of a player in the third round,” Burke said. “The draft is a deep as I’ve ever seen in terms of guys being there in the third, fourth, fifth rounds that will be able to in a year or two come into Niagara and make a big impact.”
Burke feels it’s crucial the IceDogs hit a home run with their first-round pick.
“That’s how you continually turn it over and have success if you can get a superstar in the first round which you should be able to every year. If we can follow up Akil Thomas and Philip Tomasino with another star, that’s how you continue to be good.
“We’re confident we’re going to get that this year at 12.”
Burke indicated a forward would be the organization’s preference, although that can change quickly depending on what teams ahead of them do.
“Just looking at our depth chart into the future ideally in the first round we’d like to add an impact forward,” he said. “If the guys we are in love with are gone and we can’t get one of the them, there is one goaltender who is head and shoulders above the rest and if he’s available then that becomes an option. He will go high and be a franchise changer.”
Unlike previous years where the IceDogs gambled and took a players who didn’t end up playing for the organization — Lucas Lessio, Logan Brown and Adam Bateman — Burke doesn’t feel that will be the case this time.
“We have now created a program where anyone will come,” he said. “It’s 99.9 per cent we’re taking a guy who wants to be here and will report and be here in September.”
Local players who could factor into the equation are forwards Spencer Smith and Ethan Sims of the Niagara North Stars. Both are projected to go in the second or third round.
“We’ve looked at them and like both those guys quite a bit,” Burke said. “There are a couple of other later round guys from Niagara North I could see us drafting as well.”
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