Teenage phenom Connor McDavid won’t have long to suffer the disappointment of losing the OHL Cup championship. After all, he has a very hectic time ahead of him.
Multiple sources have told THN.com that Hockey Canada has decided to give its exceptional player status to McDavid, which will allow him to enter the April 7 Ontario League draft as an underage player and go first overall to the Erie Otters. An announcement could come as early as Monday. We do know the Otters have an announcement scheduled for Monday, but it’s unsure whether it will be to announce that McDavid has been granted exceptional status, that the Otters have signed an extension on their lease in Erie or that talks have broken down and the team is moving to Hamilton next season.
This much we know. McDavid was terrific in the OHL Cup, even if his team didn’t win the championship. The Marlboros, who went through the season as the top-ranked minor midget team in North America, were shocked in the final of the showcase tournament when Matthew Alvaro scored in overtime to give the Mississauga Rebels a 2-1 win.
Fans were snaked around the Herb Carnegie Arena before the game and many of those hoping to catch a glimpse of McDavid were forced to find parking off-site. What they did see was a future NHL star in McDavid, but they were also treated to about half the first round of the 2012 OHL draft and a determined group of talented players from both teams.
They were also treated to a goaltending display by Liam Herbst of the Rebels that was one for the ages. Herbst said after the game he is still undecided whether he will play in the OHL next season or pursue the NCAA route, but if he commits to the OHL, there’s little doubt he’ll be taken in the first round of the draft. Staring down Marlie shooters such as McDavid and the highly touted Joshua Ho-Sang, Herbst was almost impenetrable and at 6-foot-4 and 188 pounds – what are they feeding kids these days anyway? – he certainly has the physical tools to develop into a top NHL goaltending prospect.
Tournament organizers did not keep track of shots on goal, but there’s no doubt Herbst stopped at least 35 shots in the final. And he was just as good throughout the tournament, posting a ridiculous 0.58 goals-against average for a team that gave up only five goals in seven games.
“He’s an absolute stud,” said Rebels coach Geoff Schomogyi. “When he’s on his game, I haven’t seen anybody better in this age group.”
The same superlatives were being reserved for McDavid, who led all scorers in the tournament with 11 goals and eight assists and earned tournament MVP honors as a 15-year-old. Not only did he absolutely and unequivocally cement his status as the No. 1 pick in the OHL draft, he left an indelible impression on those who watched him. When most young players cross the blueline with the puck, they instinctively have to slow down to consider their options. Not McDavid. He gathers speed as he crosses the blueline and that makes him all the more dangerous in the offensive zone.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better set of hands,” said one veteran scout.
The Marlies, meanwhile, could end up shattering the record of five for most first round picks from one team. Along with McDavid, defensemen Roland McKeown and Daniel DeSousa, center Samuel Bennett and winger/center Ho-Sang are locks for the first round, while forwards Jaden Lindo, Jeremiah Addison and Michael Cramarossa also stand a good chance of being selected in the top 20. The Rebels have certain first-rounders in captain Robert Fabbri and Herbst (if he commits) and likely first-rounders in Dylan Di Perna, Brett Hargrave and Damian Bourne, who checks in at 6-foot-5 and weighs 200 pounds. Did we mention that he’s only 16?
It will be interesting to see where the draft goes after McDavid is selected. There is speculation Kingston Frontenacs GM Doug Gilmour is very keen on defenseman McKeown and will take him with the second overall pick. There is the sense that Ho-Sang, who starred in the OHL Cup last year as a 15-year-old, might fall a few spots and could tumble down to No. 5 overall. If that happens, the team getting him will have a world-class talent fall directly into their hands. While Ho-Sang has developed something of a selfish reputation – he was suspended for two games during the OHL Cup for a slashing major – he remains a dynamic, superbly skilled player with outstanding speed and incredible one-on-one skills. There is also some concern about his on-ice vision, but his physical skills are something to behold.
But in the end, it was the Rebels’ day to shine. With all the attention focused on McDavid, the Rebels were intent on wearing down the young star player and played a very physical game against him. That, and the fact that he was being double shifted from about the midway point of the game, left both McDavid and Ho-Sang spent during the overtime.
“You can’t give them any time or space or it will be in the back of your net,” Shomogyi said. “Those are two very talented players.”
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.