In 2017 it was Nicolas Hague (Mississauga Steelheads) versus Conor Timmins (Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds). In 2016 it was Olli Juolevi (London Knights) versus Mikhail Sergachev (Windsor Spitfires) versus Jakob Chychrun (Sarnia Sting).
But when the debate arises between Ryan Merkley of the Guelph Storm or Evan Bouchard of the London Knights as to who should be the first defenceman selected from the Ontario Hockey League at the 2018 National Hockey League Entry Draft, I flash back to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
During that 2010-2011 OHL season, it was long debated among draft geeks on whether it should be Dougie Hamilton (Niagara Ice Dogs) or Ryan Murphy (Kitchener Rangers) that should be selected first. In a lot of ways, there are similarities between the Hamilton – Murphy debate and the Merkley – Bouchard debate.
At the time of his draft, Murphy was 5’11” and 170 pounds, Merkley is 5’11” and 163 pounds. Hamilton was drafted at 6’5” and 193 pounds while Bouchard, not as tall as Hamilton, measures in at 6’3” and 191 pounds.
Murphy was labeled an elite skater with a howitzer of a shot who used his skating advantage to succeed offensively. He was a dominant force on the powerplay through his OHL time. There were questions about his defensive game, although sometimes unwarranted. And of course, the size questions and whether the smaller statured defender could succeed at the NHL level never ended. But it was a pair of severe concussions in the OHL that may just affected Murphy’s development.
Six years later, some of the same things are now being repeated. Merkley is also an elite skater who uses it to his advantage offensively. As with Murphy, there are some significant questions being asked about his defensive game. And while they are identical in size, to date Merkley has avoided severe injury.
Let’s compare the pairs’ offensive output in their first two OHL seasons (the second season being their draft year). In Merkley’s case, it’s been less than half a season so we’ll look at his current stats and the pace he is on for the season.
|On pace for||68||21||66||87|
Merkley clearly out-produced Murphy during their respective rookie seasons. However, their draft years are virtually identical in terms of offensive output when translating Merkley’s current pact over a 68-game schedule.
Hamilton was considered one of a growing breed of big defencemen with excellent mobility with the ability to translate from defence to offence in many ways. While there is a minimal size difference between Hamilton and Bouchard, the same is being attributed to Bouchard as was to Hamilton.
In 2011, Hamilton was considered the better all-around player. The same is being said about Bouchard in the current debate. Hamilton was a force on the Ice Dogs powerplay and his offensive game underrated compared to Murphy’s. Ditto for Bouchard. If there is one key difference between Bouchard and Hamilton, it’s that Bouchard is more willing to use his size. Of course, that is my own opinion.
When comparing Hamilton’s stats to Bouchard’s stats, it must be noted that because of a late birthdate, Bouchard started his OHL career as a 15-year-old. Therefore, Bouchard’s draft year is his third season while Hamilton was drafted in his second season (* denotes draft year). Ultimately, you are comparing Bouchard’s draft year to Hamilton’s draft year plus one.
|On pace for||68||24||60||84|
Hamilton’s and Bouchard’s rookie seasons are about as identical as they come, although Hamilton was older and played in 19 more games. But if you jump to their respective draft years and the pace Bouchard is currently on, then it becomes lopsided in Bouchard’s favor.
The Boston Bruins decided that the size and the better all-around player was the best choice and selected Hamilton with the ninth overall pick. Murphy was selected three picks later by the Carolina Hurricanes.
The question is: will NHL teams see it the same way in 2018?
Bouchard was not getting the attention he truly deserved with many of the independent, public scouting services having him ranked in the second-round while Merkley was ranked in the first. But that’s changing as of late. It is after all, a what have you done for me lately business.
I do wonder though, what were they watching for the past three seasons?