Why does the WHL draft players a year earlier than the OHL and QMJHL?

Ryan Kennedy
Matt Barzal (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

It’s one of the more curious blips in junior hockey: How come the Ontario and Quebec Leagues draft players at age 15, but the Western League selects them at 14?

This question came up again in the wake of this year’s bantam draft lottery, which was won, but lost by Saskatoon. Since 1990, the WHL has held a bantam draft – before that, teams just listed players they were interested in. The OHL and the ‘Q’ do a midget draft.

You would think having to choose a player one year less developed would throw unnecessary hardship on teams and their scouts, but the league does have a good explanation for its policy.

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Prospect Hot List: Zach Senyshyn running with the big dogs

Zach Senyshyn (photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Frozen Four tournament may be the most deadly in hockey. It’s not long, but that’s the danger: it’s one-and-done, so even titan teams can get grounded in the first round, as top seed MSU-Mankato found out against RIT. But in the end, we have two teams from the two best conferences in the semifinal: Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota from the NCHC and Hockey East’s Providence College and Boston University. Major junior playoffs are in full swing now too, so let’s look at the kids making noise in the prospect world right now.

Zach Senyshyn, RW – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

They’re going for it all in the Soo this year and with the team adding players such as Justin Bailey, Anthony DeAngelo and Nick Ritchie before the trade deadline, it’s almost easier to name the Hounds who haven’t been drafted by NHL franchises at this point. Senyshyn is one, but that’s because he’s not eligible until this summer. In the meantime, he’s been happy to soak up lessons from his elder peers.

“It’s a great learning process every day,” he said. “Working with guys like Jared McCann and Darnell Nurse in practice is a special experience.”

This is actually Senyshyn’s first full year with the Hounds. The skilled, swift skater played most of last year with the Jr. A Smiths Falls Bears near Ottawa. He had his eye on playing NCAA, with Penn State, Princeton and nearby Clarkson all on his radar. But the siren sound of the Hounds drew him to the OHL and he signed with the squad in December, playing a handful of games before returning to the Bears to work on his defense and round out his game. There was a Hounds-Bears link, too.

“The assistant coach in Smiths Falls was Walt Dubas,” Senyshyn said. “He’s Kyle Dubas’ uncle. It’s pretty cool the way things worked out.”

Kyle Dubas of course, was the Hounds’ GM last year and now works for the Toronto Maple Leafs. But it’s a member of the Colorado Avalanche that Senyshyn counts as a role model.

“I’d say Matt Duchene,” Senyshyn revealed. “He plays the game at such a high pace and uses his creativity to create offense.”

With three points in his first two playoff games, Senyshyn’s not doing too bad in that category himself. Draft eligible in 2015.

Michael Mersch, LW – Manchester Monarchs (AHL)

The former University of Wisconsin Badger tied a franchise record by notching five points in a win over Hershey on Friday, but he didn’t stop there. The sturdy Mersch, who doesn’t mind heading to the front of the net, also collected points in his next two games. Drafted 110th overall by Los Angeles in 2011.

Nicolas Roy, C – Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)

When you’re 6-foot-4 and 202 pounds, it pays to use your frame and that’s what Roy has been doing in the Sags’ first-round series against Moncton. Despite being the underdogs, Chicoutimi has the showdown tied 1-1 in part due to Roy’s four points. Defensively responsible, it’s good to see his offense busting out. Draft eligible in 2015.

Mike Robinson, G – Lawrence Academy Spartans (Mass. HS)

A big goaltender who comes in at 6-foot-4, Robinson had to stop a lot of pucks for the Spartans this season and even though it didn’t result in team success, he did catch the eyes of scouts. Along with his size, the University of New Hampshire commit has great technique and quickness. Draft eligible in 2015.

Travis Konecny, RW – Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

The 67’s got Konecny back from injury right in time for the post-season and he has rewarded them with his presence. The highly skilled heart-and-soul captain has come out guns a’ blazing with seven points in the first three games in what has been a high-scoring affair versus Niagara. Draft eligible in 2015.

Joel Ek Eriksson, C – Farjestad (Swe.)

A 200-foot player with size and a good shot, Ek Eriksson couldn’t get Farjestad past the quarterfinal in Sweden’s under-20 playoffs, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. The big pivot had five goals and 10 points in six games for Farjestad, who dropped their second post-season series to Djurgarden. Draft eligible in 2015.

John Quenneville, C – Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

The Wheaties have aces all through their lineup, but early on in Brandon’s playoff series against Edmonton, Quenneville has been a driver with five points in three games. The sturdy pivot has a great shot, skates hard and really competes. Drafted 30th overall by New Jersey in 2014.

Jake Walman, D – Providence College Friars (Hockey East)

The Friars had the benefit of playing their regional games in Providence, but they still had to beat two very good NCHC teams and Walman was key against Denver in the final. The offensively talented blueliner notched three assists in the 4-1 win over the Pioneers. Drafted 82nd overall by St. Louis in 2014.

Nick Boka, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)

A noted gym rat, Boka has pretty good size ay 6-foot-1, 197 pounds and generally plays a physical, defense-first game. But the University of Michigan commit can also wheel when he wants to and has a nice offensive upside, even if it’s not his go-to skill. Draft eligible in 2015.

Vaclav Karabacek, RW – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)

Baie-Comeau has taken care of business at home, winning both games in their opener against Saint John, with Karabacek doing a lot of damage. The gifted Czech, who plays at a high pace and has some dazzling skill, has four assists already in the series to lead the Drakkar. Drafted 49th overall by Buffalo in 2014.

NCAA vs. major junior: big choices face teenaged talent early

Ryan Kennedy
Detroit's Brendan Smith hails from Toronto but played NCAA hockey (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s a Wednesday night in the suburbs between Toronto and Hamilton and Nate Ewell of College Hockey Inc. is busy signing in players for a showcase in front of NCAA coaches representing four different conferences. Even though some of these 15-year-olds had competed in the pressure-packed OHL Cup final two days before, it’s almost impossible to keep a hockey-mad teen off the ice and four teams worth of players have shown up.

If any of these kids can be educated on the merits of college hockey in the U.S., then the night is a success, because recruiting the best teen talent around can be a tough business.

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CHL playoffs: The most intriguing first-round matchups

Quebec's Anthony Duclair  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The CHL playoffs begin tonight and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Connor McDavid has one last chance to win it all with the Erie Otters in the Ontario League, but the powerfully-built Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have designs of their own. Out in the Western League, Kelowna and Brandon seem to be on a collision course for the final, while the Quebec League has the added wrinkle of sending two teams to the Memorial Cup – one being the host Quebec Remparts, who won’t want to crawl in through the back door.

Here’s a look at all the first-round matchups in the CHL, with a bit more info on one series per league that has me riveted from the get-go.

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Saskatoon traded away the first overall pick in the WHL for the second year in a row

Ryan Kennedy
Saskatoon's Brett Stovin (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

There was a lot of hand-wringing in Toronto when the first draft pick traded to the Boston Bruins in the Phil Kessel deal turned out to be No. 2 overall, netting the B’s Tyler Seguin. But hey; at least the Leafs got one of the top scorers in the NHL in Kessel.

Now gently and kindly turn your eyes to the Western League’s Saskatoon Blades, who, thanks to their own trades, have accidentally given away the first overall pick in the bantam draft for the second year in a row.

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Claude Noel, WHL club part ways after less than a season

Jared Clinton
Claude Noel (Ben Nelms/Getty Images)

After less than a season with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, former Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel and the club have mutually agreed to go their separate ways.

The news of Noel and the Giants looking at different options comes less than a week after Vancouver’s season ended with a 5-2 loss to the Kelowna Rockets. Noel, who took over the Giants’ coaching duties on Nov. 30, 2014, posted a record of 17-23-2-2 and Vancouver finished in last place in the Western Conference. Read more

Prospect Hot List: Casey Fitzgerald’s deep hockey roots

Casey Fitzgerald (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Since I did a big NCAA dig on Monday, it’s time to focus on some other circuits. Major junior playoff brackets are set and there will be some barnburners – Quebec vs. Cape Breton is intriguing, while a potential second-round match between Erie and the Soo Greyhounds is dizzying to think of. But the big story right now is Youngstown of the United States League. The Phantoms just broke a USHL record by winning 17 straight – and Chicago gave them a good game in that last one. But enough about teams, here are the players making noise in the prospect world right now.

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