Owen Sound drafted Victor Mete, but will the talented blueliner play for the Attack, get traded to London or go to college? Two more high junior draft picks are still making up their minds, too.
Minor ripples were made the other day when a Michigan news outlet reported that center Tye Felhaber was unlikely to report to the Saginaw Spirit, the Ontario League team that drafted the talented youngster 10th overall in the spring.
As I found out in talking to insiders, Felhaber didn’t just decide this; the team had quietly known for some time. But since it’s officially out there now, Felhaber becomes the third top-10 pick from the 2014 OHL draft to express reticence in joining the franchise that selected him.
Felhaber, who can also play on the wing, is a dynamic scorer who backs off defenders with his skill set. Hailing from the Ottawa area, he would be very far from home and going to high school in another country in Saginaw. And though that hasn’t stopped plenty of other prospects, Felhaber has options. He played a few games of Jr. A this past season with the Pembroke Lumber Kings and could return there if Saginaw doesn’t trade his rights. NCAA schools have already come calling about his future plans, so Felhaber holds the hammer right now.
The same goes for Victor Mete, an excellent offensive defenseman who played for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens in 2013-14. Mete was taken eighth overall by Owen Sound, but had made it clear he was more interested in the college route. Logan Brown, a towering center whose former NHLer father Jeff just took over the Ottawa 67’s, was also shocked when Niagara took him with the sixth pick overall. Brown, an American from St. Louis, is naturally being linked to the 67’s now, but from what I’ve heard both on and off the record, father and son would prefer to carve their own paths. Jeff Brown was recently asked where he thought Logan would play and he responded “Niagara,” though the IceDogs still haven’t officially announced any signing and that quote was from a month ago.
You would think having the sixth, eighth and tenth picks reject their draft teams would be shocking, but I’m actually surprised it hasn’t happened more often. The OHL has a rule where a player who does not report to training camp in August can be labelled as having “defected,” and the team gets a compensatory pick if the youngster is traded before Sept. 15. That’s how Max Domi went from Kingston to London and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Knights end up taking a run at Mete via trade with Owen Sound, either.
The situation is actually pretty sweet for Saginaw, Owen Sound and Niagara. That compensatory pick is a first-rounder, one selection later in 2015. So in Niagara’s case, for example, they would get the seventh pick overall if Brown doesn’t report. On top of that, the teams get whatever goodies they can in return for the player’s rights. Kingston received three second-round picks from London in exchange for Domi back in 2011. And that compensatory pick? The Frontenacs used it to draft some kid named Sam Bennett the next year. Not too shabby.
But despite the seeming advantage of picking a player you know won’t report to your team, OHL franchises haven’t taken that much risk up top. In fact, Domi and Lucas Lessio (Niagara, now with the same Arizona Coyotes organization that Domi belongs to) were the only top-10 picks to turn down their draft teams since 2009 until now.
In the end, it’s reassuring that teams genuinely try to draft players they know will come to their towns, instead of regularly exploiting a bizarre rule that seemingly encourages subterfuge. Of course, if three of the top 10 players in next year’s draft see their rights traded after they are declared defected, the OHL will have a problem on its hands.