As the years pass and more players come through the annual OHL Priority Selection, one thing becomes gradually clearer: it’s an experience that is different for everybody.
Each player competing in the OHL today has a different story to tell about their Priority Selection experience. Some went high, some had to wait longer than expected, some were just happy to hear their name called and others didn’t get selected at all.
The truth is, draft day is just the start – the day the real work begins.
“The way I looked at it was that it’s an opportunity, and from then on I always tried to be the hardest working guy on the ice, in the gym and over the summer,” said Peterborough Petes winger Logan DeNoble, a 13th round pick in 2013 who found the back of the net 34 times this past season.
“I mean it was a long day, don’t get me wrong,” he added. “Waiting until the 13th round is hard, but I just saw it as an opportunity and wanted to make the most of it.”
Petes GM Mike Oke and his scouting staff hauled in another late round gem a year earlier with the selection of Waterloo Wolves forward Steven Lorentz in the 12th round. After a year of Midget, Lorentz cracked the Petes’ lineup as a 17-year-old and has been improving ever since, being selected by the Carolina Hurricanes in the seventh round of the 2015 NHL Draft.
“I wasn’t a very big kid, only 5-foot-9 at the time,” said Lorentz of his draft day stature. “Peterborough was the only team that called me that whole season and it was back in January so I figured they’d forgotten. I was ecstatic when I saw my name appear on the screen and was determined to play in the OHL.”
After a 29-goal season in his overage year, Lorentz took a moment to reflect on his career progression.
“If you want to pursue anything, especially once you get into your later teen years and become a young adult you have to have a passion for what you’re doing,” he said. “I think a lot of kids end up not being super successful because everything comes easy for them early on, but when things get tough and you have to work for them they fall off the map. I had a passion for this the whole way through and I loved every moment. I think being a 12th round pick was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
There’s being a 12th or 13th round pick and then there’s another, less thrilling outcome.
Only two players in OHL history have ever strung together three straight 50-goal seasons. The first, Dale McCourt, was a second overall pick in 1973 while the other was never drafted at all.
Erie Otters scoring machine Alex DeBrincat committed as a free agent in the summer of 2014. His well-documented impact in Erie has contributed to a thorough re-writing of many of the club’s franchise records these past three seasons.
“Being drafted would have been fun, but at the end of the day you can be successful even if you’re not,” said DeBrincat, the all-time leading goal-scorer in Otters history. “The higher you get taken the more expectations are placed upon you and I think I benefitted from being free of those when I first got to Erie. I was able to settle in and work hard without being worried about a label.”
186 goals later, DeBrincat looks back on his focus as a 17-year-old in Erie, a year he earned OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year honours.
“It really just started with me wanting to earn my spot in the lineup every night,” he said. “We had some pretty good young players named McDavid and Strome at the time and I wasn’t trying to do anything too complicated. I just wanted to contribute in any way that I could as a rookie.”
While a lot of light has been shed on successful players whose draft day experiences may not have been so glamorous, there’s an endless number of highly touted rising stars taken inside the opening rounds of the OHL Priority Selection that have gone on to achieve great things.
Take Flint Firebirds rookie Ty Dellandrea for instance.
The Port Perry, Ont. native put up 24 points (13-11–24) in 57 games as a 16-year-old, attracting the attention of Hockey Canada in the process as he recently earned an invitation to Canada’s National Under-18 Camp as an underage player.
Dellandrea, who entered a unique situation in Flint after being the club’s first round, 5th overall pick last spring, says the 2016 OHL Priority Selection will always hold special memories.
“It’s one of the more memorable days of my life to this point,” he said. “Just being able to be with your family and celebrate all the hard work you’ve put in. It’s the start of a new chapter and my first season in the OHL couldn’t have gone better.”
The Firebirds reached the OHL Playoffs in their second season in Flint, turning a corner under a young coaching staff led by Brampton Battalion graduate and former Detroit Red Wings farmhand Ryan Oulahen.
“I think the coaching staff including Ryan, Eric Wellwood and Scott MacDonald did great work with us and they deserve a lot of credit for the success we had,” Dellandrea noted. ” They did a good job working with us young guys coming in and also with the older players who helped turn this team around.”
As for the first round label, Dellandrea acknowledged the greater expectations, but says those are shaping who he is becoming as a player.
“There’s a little more on your shoulders,” he said, “but I think there’s greater opportunity there as well. You work through situations, make some mistakes and come out on the other side with improvements.”
DeNoble, Lorentz, DeBrincat and Dellandrea were once in the position hundreds of young players across Ontario and the United States will be in on Saturday.
Let their stories be a testament to all draft eligibles that the OHL Priority Selection, while an opportunity of great celebration for many, is where the real work gets started regardless of whether you’re chosen or not.