Pair of OHLers look to find reprieve in the draft
By Mackenzie Liddell, Contributing Editor
Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - Barrie Colts center Mark Scheifele and Peterborough Petes winger Matt Puempel will be in the minority among projected first-rounders for the NHL draft on June 24, having played out last season on two of the worst teams in the Ontario Hockey League.
Despite not getting the chance to compete in the playoffs and showcase their talents in high-pressure situations, Scheifele's and Puempel's stock have remained high amidst the washout of a failed season.
"You're not judging what a kid is doing right now based on current circumstances," said Gus Katsaros, the pro scouting coordinator for McKeen's Hockey. "You're judging the skill they are putting on display and whether they will be able to improve on that."
Scheifele, a 6-foot-3 two-way pivot, is fortunate more emphasis isn't put on winning.
Barrie was abysmal in 2010-11, finishing last in the league and ending the season with only two players who suited up for the OHL-best Colts the season prior.
But a thinned-out roster led to a significant opportunity for the Kitchener, Ontario, native, who was leaned on heavily to produce offense for a team that didn't have many options and was constantly ravaged by the opposition.
"Playing on a poor team like Barrie was a huge advantage for Mark," said Shane Malloy, the author of "The Art of Scouting." "You know he will be facing the top defensive pairing every shift, so he's going to have to produce opportunities for himself and his linemates against tough competition every time he steps on the ice. And not only did he produce, but he did so in clutch situations.
"When you have a good team like Saint John (QMJHL) which has two or three lines, you know that those players aren't going to face a top-pairing defense or checking line every shift."
Scheifele, ranked 16th among North American Skaters by NHL Central Scouting, finished with 22 goals and 75 points in his rookie campaign.
Puempel's Peterborough Petes weren't quite as inept as the Colts, although there were trying times for the 2009-10 rookie of the year, who missed the playoffs and had his season cut short after undergoing surgery in March to remove a bone spur in his hip, a torn labrum and a bone chip.
Still, he led Peterborough in scoring with 34 goals and 69 points in 55 games, despite the Petes' anemic league-worst offense. He is ranked 28th by Central Scouting.
But how does a culture of losing impact a player's development?
In Puempel's case, even though the losses piled up and Peterborough's scoring went silent for long stretches, Katsaros isn't worried about the lingering effects a disenchanting season will have on him going forward.
"If there's enough discouragement, then it would probably show up in his game," he said. "At that age you're still developing your own mentality, identity and character."
Malloy also downplayed the damage a player can incur being surrounded by lesser talent and instead looked at it as a positive situation.
"If you're the top dog on a poor team, yes, you're going to face more failures than success. But if the player has a good hockey sense, he's going to learn to become more adaptable," Malloy said. "If you're insulated on a good team, you might not get as many quality minutes because the coach is trying to spread them around."
Malloy also worries that some players on exceptionally good teams may not give 100-percent effort because there are others who can pick up the slack, although he admitted it can have an opposite effect and create an internal competition.
Whether on a team unaccustomed to losing, or one that can't avoid it, the fate of a player on draft day boils down to valued and developing skill sets.
Scheifele and Puempel have that, and once they're called to the draft stage in St. Paul, Minn., they can begin to block out the bad memories of this past season.
06/09 10:07:41 ET