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Clubs looking for the overlooked

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The North Bay Battalion is to pick third overall in the inaugural Ontario Hockey League Under-18 Priority Selection on Wednesday night.

Players eligible to be selected are Canadians, as well as Americans from OHL-territory states, who played last season on midget AAA teams in the Ontario Hockey Federation, Hockey Eastern Ontario or Hockey Northwestern Ontario and who aren’t on the protected list of any Canadian Hockey League club, including those in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League.

Selections are to be made over the Internet, as was the case Saturday with the OHL Priority Selection, which was primarily for minor midgets, starting at 7 p.m.

“I think the (OHF) wanted to put a re-emphasis on midget hockey for kids to understand that, if they don’t get drafted, they don’t need to play junior hockey the next year, they can actually play midget the following year and they’re eligible for a secondary draft,” Stan Butler, Battalion director of hockey operations and head coach, said Tuesday.

Butler said Matt Rabideau, an assistant general manager with the club, has directed the Troops’ preparations.

“He has three scouts that work under him on the midget draft, and they put their list together, and we’ll pick off our list.”

Butler suggested that the process is a second chance not only for players but also for OHL clubs.

“It gives us an opportunity to probably draft four or five players tomorrow that will increase our depth chart of our team and, hopefully, out of those five guys, one or two of them might be able to make our team.”

Said Butler: “For me, the approach is pretty simple: early on, best players available and then, I think, probably third, fourth, fifth round, where our depth chart needs the most help.”

The Battalion took three underage skaters from the North Bay Trappers midgets in the OHL Priority Selection, in defenceman Payton Vescio, a fourth-round pick, centre Ryan Mills and right winger Mathew Hardwick.

“I believe in hometown hockey,” declared Butler. “I don’t think you need to go to Toronto to be developed as a hockey player. I don’t believe that kids going to Toronto will be drafted any higher than if they stay here.

“From a development standpoint, we’ve got a good midget program here. Guy Blanchard’s coached in the Ontario Hockey League; he’s coached junior A and now he’s coaching midget. We’ve worked on a program where kids are getting a (school) credit for playing on that team. They’re practising here (at Memorial Gardens) as much as they can; they’re playing some of their games in here. I don’t see any reason why somebody should leave.”

The four-round under-18 process will be conducted in inverse order of the overall standings last season, with the stipulation that non-playoff clubs hold the first four picks. If a team takes one or more goaltenders, it has the option of making a fifth selection, which may not be used on a goaltender. All clubs are required to make at least four picks, but none can make more than five.

North Bay took 16 players, numbering nine forwards, five defencemen and two goaltenders, all born in 2001, in the 15-round OHL Priority Selection. Right winger Brandon Coe of the Toronto Nationals minor midgets was the Battalion’s first-round pick, third overall.

Ten Battalion selections have been named to play in the eight-team OHL Gold Cup at Kitchener from May 3-7. They number the three Trappers as well as Coe, centre Kurtis Evans, left winger Owen Belisle, defencemen Simon Rose and Nathan Porter and goaltenders Christian Cicigoi and David Cunti.

The Guelph Storm, which selected second overall Saturday, had 11 players named to the tournament, held in conjunction with the OHF and Hockey Canada, with the Troops producing the second-highest total.

“It’s an exciting time and a great opportunity for our teams to add very good players who have received an extra year of development to add speed and strength to their game,” Joe Birch, the OHL’s Toronto-based senior director of hockey development and special events, said of the under-18 process.

Selections can be followed live at www.ontariohockeyleague.com.

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