The big story is that for the second consecutive year, and third time ever, a player has been granted "exceptional status" by the OHL, and is being allowed to enter the draft a year early. This year, it is Toronto-area forward Connor McDavid. John Tavares in 2005 and Aaron Ekblad last year would be other two players to receive it.
On the surface, it looks fishy to have two "exceptional" players back to back, but McDavid certainly fits the criteria Hockey Canada has laid out for exceptional players. McDavid has played up a year against '96s for some time now. He's pretty dominant at that level, he's reportedly the best player on the best U16 team in Canada, leading the OHL Cup in scoring by a pretty wide margin.
The interesting part comes in the final criterion used by Hockey Canada to determine exceptional status, which is being the consensus number one overall pick.(CORRECTION: This isn't an official criterion used by the OHL, though I've heard it unofficially used as a measure in the past) There's little doubt that McDavid would be the top player on every team's draft board, but the first overall pick is held by Erie, clearly one of the OHL's have-nots, who have had trouble drawing top draft picks in the past, and were plagued much of the season by relocation rumors(which seem to have been quelled for the time being). Under normal circumstances, there's likely no way a player like McDavid would commit to play in Erie, but the expectation that comes with being granted exceptional status will likely push McDavid to sign there.
Other items of interest to watch out for on Saturday are after the jump.
-For the most part, we seem to have gotten past the charade of players "playing the NCAA card". No notarized letters stating a player is absolutely not going to play in the OHL, or players announcing commitments to NCAA schools that never offered them a scholarship, I guess because teams saw how valid those statements were in the past. OHL teams have a pretty good idea of who they can sign and who they can't, and are now convincing themselves they didn't really want that higher-rated player in the first place. NCAA teams seem to have learned their lesson as well and are waiting to see how things shake out with the OHL Draft before going after Canadian players.
-The second best offensive talent in the draft appears to be forward Josh Ho-Sang, a forward who appears good enough to be able to avoid the less desirable locales picking in the 2-4 spot, and fall to the fifth spot where the Windsor Spitfires are picking.
-The Kingston Frontenacs get their second top-ten pick with a compensatory pick at 9th overall as a result of not signing Max Domi last year. I bet they'll be able to turn that pick into so many more draft picks, who will then in turn provide so many more draft picks.
-Projected first round pick Dante Salituro is the younger brother of former Robert Morris forward Stefan Salituro.
-This is always a big day for American prospects, because it can give a pretty solid indication as to their future plans. Usually anything in the first two to three rounds is bad news, while anything after that is usually a positive sign.
I think the most interesting player to keep an eye on might be North Dakota recruit Nick Schmaltz. The Windsor Spitfires already hold the rights to his older brother Jordan, and have expressed a strong interest in signing him. Both Schmaltzes have seemed pretty committed to making it to North Dakota, but Windsor might view the opportunity for the brothers to play together as a selling point. After a down year, the Spitfires are looking to reload, and already seem likely to steal at least one NCAA-committed NHL Draft pick this summer. Schmaltz might be worth the risk, especially if he can be picked in a later round.
The Sioux will also have to worry about recruit Brendan Lemieux, who is the only '96 from Canada to have committed to a college so far. I haven't heard anything one way or the other on Lemieux, so hopefully his name doesn't show up on the draft board for a while on Saturday.
There was some speculation about forward Ryan MacInnis, since his dad Al once played in the OHL for the Kitchener Rangers, and over the course of 1400 NHL games, gained ties to someone in just about every OHL organization. MacInnis already committed to the NTDP though, and while even that doesn't set things in stone(Brandon Shea was among the NTDP commitments last year, before ending up in Quebec), it's a significant sign.
It's been a long time since you could say this, but no team has more at stake on Saturday than Michigan State, who has three commits that would be first round talents if they committed to the OHL in Josh Jacobs, Brendan Perlini, and Marcel Godbout. MSU has a fourth '96 recruit in Carson Gatt, though he's not on the OHL's list of eligible players.
Jacobs may be the biggest concern because he's the best of the group, and because he hasn't officially been announced as joining the NTDP, even though he seems like a slam dunk option for the team. Brendan Perlini's older brother Brett currently plays at Michigan State, though Brett flirted with the possibility of joining the OHL at one point in his recruitment. Godbout has committed to play in the USHL next year.
There's one more wildcard for the Spartans in the draft in that '94 MacKenzie MacEachern, who won Michigan's Mr. Hockey playing for Brother Rice this year is on the list of players eligible to be picked. He's sort of a diamond-in-the-rough type that OHL teams might be interested in adding.
There's always a surprise or two, but for the most part, it seems like it should be an otherwise uneventful from a college commitment perspective. It's worth noting that among all the '96 commitments, '95 OSU commit Matthew Weis, who was passed over last year, listed among those eligible to be picked this year, so his name might pop up in a later round.
I can't imagine him getting drafted for anything other than his name, but Nick Lidstrom's son is in the draft. The nephew of Pat Verbeek is eligible as well.