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.

Why the Penguins should trade Sidney Crosby for the No. 1 pick

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Before any Pittsburgh fans go and get their jerseys in a jumble, just pause for a second, take a deep breath and think about it: if the Penguins fail to get back to the Stanley Cup final for the sixth straight season, what else is left for the franchise to do but blow up the core?

After an off-season of upheaval in which Pittsburgh brought in a new coach, a new GM and a new supporting cast for Sidney Crosby, there would be few options left but to raze the roster to the ground and begin anew. Sure, the Penguins could use Marc-Andre Fleury as a scapegoat and try using the same roster again next season with a different goalie, but that would only be putting off the inevitable. (Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who are years behind on the rebuilding schedule after sticking with their core despite perennial playoff failures, including their first-round faceplant last year.)

The best thing for the Penguins to do would be to try to trade Crosby for the next Crosby.

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When this much is at stake, who can blame Sabres fans for cheering for losses?

Ken Campbell
Buff fans

In a discussion with a GM recently, this is how he described Connor McDavid: “When you draft a guy, you hope that maybe someday he’s going to be an all-star. You look at this guy and you’re thinking Hall of Fame.”

This is not some crazed fan or a yahoo who calls into sports talk radio. This is a person who makes player personnel decisions for a living and has seen thousands of prospects over the years. And he’s bang-on in his assessment. Read more

Mike Smith big part of Coyotes future with or without McDavid or Eichel

Ken Campbell
Mike Smith  (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

BUFFALO – In a little more than 60 minutes, the 30th-place Buffalo Sabres and 29th-place Arizona Coyotes had a total of 124 shot attempts. That was three more than the Islanders and the Kings, 20 more than Carolina and Pittsburgh and 33 more than Nashville and the high-flying Tampa Bay Lightning.

All in all, a rather entertaining, if not surreal night in the latest installment of the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes™. The Sabres did a pretty good job of keeping the crowd out of it by staying in the game, but the cheers could not be contained when the Coyotes scored on the power play just 56 seconds into overtime for a 4-3 victory, which increased the Coyotes cushion over Buffalo to six points. The Sabres were quietly incensed at the reaction, but the people who speak with their feet and their wallets are entitled to react however they like. If the Sabres get either McDavid or Jack Eichel and he helps lead them to a Stanley Cup in five years, nobody is going to remember a night in March when the fans booed a Sabres loss. Read more

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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Why the Arizona Coyotes need to finish last more than the Buffalo Sabres do

Ken Campbell
Connor McDavid  (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

BUFFALO – Forty-five years ago, the Buffalo Sabres won the first overall pick with the spin of a wheel and chose Gilbert Perreault. The Vancouver Canucks settled for Dale Tallon. The Sabres got the better player and the Canucks got the better future GM. Of course, there was nothing preventing the Canucks from taking Darryl Sittler second overall in 1970.

But you get the point here. That one moment in time changed the course of history. And even though Perreault could never deliver a Stanley Cup to Buffalo, his Hall of Fame career gave the Sabres an identity and set them on a far better course.

Tonight’s game could be another one of those defining, franchise game-changing moments for the Sabres. Just as it could be for the Arizona Coyotes. All they have to do is lose tonight, then lose again in four days when the teams meet in the desert. It’s the only two times these teams meet this season and – wouldn’t you know it? – they play each other twice down the stretch with one of two generational talents on the line. 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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