Teams in the Ontario Hockey League have not been shy to use early to mid round draft picks on players who have already made verbal commitments to Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association schools.
For example, Saginaw Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill has been particularly bold — and successful — when it comes to risking high draft picks on players who have been recruited by Division 1 schools.
And at the recent 2020 OHL priority selections draft — of further example — Soo Greyhounds used a fourth round pick and London Knights gambled on a fifth round selection to take plum prospects who have future NCAA commitments.
As for Drinkill and Saginaw, the Spirit has already come out ahead at getting top players to the OHL after they had made NCAA commitments.
In 2016, Drinkill took center Blade Jenkins in the first round and followed up by picking defenseman Bode Wilde in the second round of the same draft.
Then, after a year with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, Jenkins backed off from his NCAA commitment and has played the past three OHL seasons in Saginaw.
And after two seasons with the NTDP, Wilde opted to take a walk from his NCAA commitment and has played the past two OHL seasons as a teammate of Jenkins in Saginaw.
Interestingly, both Jenkins and Wilde became National Hockey League draft picks of the New York Islanders in 2018.
Drinkill, as the GM, then really hit one out of the park for Saginaw in 2018 when he took center Cole Perfetti — who had an NCAA commitment — in the first round of the OHL priority selections draft.
Perfetti quickly opted out of his NCAA commitment to sign with Saginaw and has become an OHL scoring sensation for the Spirit the past two seasons. And he is projected to be a first round pick at this year’s NHL draft.
Drinkill did miss on center Alex Turcotte in the second round of the 2017 OHL draft. Turcotte went from USA Hockey’s NTDP to honour his commitment to the University of Wisconsin and become a first round NHL draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2019.
Turcotte played the 2019-2020 season at Wisconsin, has since signed an NHL contract with Los Angeles, and is slated to turn pro in the fall.
Over to the recent 2020 OHL priority selections draft, the Soo and London took chances on two players who would have been first round picks if they had not made NCAA commitments.
In the fourth round, the Soo opted for center Rutger McGroarty and one round later, London rolled the dice on right winger Frank Nazar.
McGroarty and Nazar are both coming off explosive 2019-2020 seasons with Michigan-based minor hockey teams. McGroarty tallied 82 goals, 78 assists, 160 points in 63 games for the Oakland Grizzlies while Nazar lit it up for 49 goals, 78 assists, 127 points in 55 games for Detroit Honeybaked.
McGroarty has made a verbal commitment to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish while Nazar has done the same for the Michigan Wolverines.
Of note, both the Soo and London have a history of getting players to the OHL who had earlier committed to NCAA schools.
Time will always tell if drafting a player who has made an NCAA commitment is worth it.
Then again, when drafting any 16-year old player, it is often a challenging risk.