Peter­bor­ough no-show forges a new path

It can take years for teams to re­cover when OHL play­ers refuse to re­port but for hold­outs it’s a chance to ex­ert some power

The Peterborough Examiner - - Sports - JOSH BROWN jbrown@there­ Twit­ter: @BrownRecord

WIND­SOR — Will Cuylle was a can’t-miss prospect.

The Toronto Marl­boros star was fast, strong and owned a deadly shot. And at six-foot-two, the bud­ding power for­ward had all 20 On­tario Hockey League teams sali­vat­ing be­fore last April’s draft.

Peter­bor­ough Petes gen­eral man­ager Mike Oke, who owned the third over­all se­lec­tion, was a big fan.

Cuylle was just the kind of player that could help turn the fran­chise around af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son that saw the club go 23-39-3-3 and miss the play­offs.

There was only one prob­lem — Cuylle didn’t want to play for Peter­bor­ough.

“I just thought the Petes weren’t the best fit for me,” the 16-year-old said.

He told the team he wouldn’t re­port but Oke rolled the dice on the Toronto na­tive any­way.

“At the time of the draft I re­ally felt that we would take who we felt was the best player avail­able and, over time, have the op­por­tu­nity to show the player and his fam­ily why Peter­bor­ough would be such a great op­por­tu­nity for him to con­tinue his hockey de­vel­op­ment but equally im­por­tant to con­tinue to de­velop as a per­son and stu­dent,” the GM said. Cuylle’s camp wasn’t swayed. Five months later the Petes traded the winger to the Wind­sor Spit­fires for a pack­age of draft picks.

When elite OHL play­ers don’t re­port to the teams that draft them it can de­rail re­build­ing plans, tar­nish their rep­u­ta­tion and fire up a fan base. But for play­ers, it’s one of the rare times they can have a say in the di­rec­tion of their ca­reers.

Ei­ther way, the sce­nario sparks de­bate.

“I know the league doesn’t like the trad­ing and all that and right­fully so since it’s up­root­ing play­ers,” said player agent Dar­ren Fer­ris. “But you don’t want to have a player in a sit­u­a­tion where he’s not happy and things aren’t sat­is­fied to the fam­ily’s best in­ter­ests. That’s why these types of things hap­pen.”

Re­fus­ing to re­port is noth­ing new.

The Kitchener Rangers were ey­ing Petro­lia prospect Mark Hunter in the first round of the 1979 On­tario Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion draft but the cur­rent Lon­don Knights GM had no in­ter­est in the Blueshirts, ac­cord­ing to a story in The Record at the time.

The re­port said that the Hunter clan blamed Rangers coach Bob Er­tel for the mis­han­dling of older brother Dale dur­ing his lone sea­son at the Aud. Mark ended up go­ing first over­all to the Brant­ford Alexan­ders.

In 1989, the Sault Ste. Marie Grey­hounds selected Eric Lin­dros first over­all but the fu­ture NHL star balked and was later shipped to the Oshawa Gen­er­als.

More re­cently, the Ni­a­gara IceDogs took for­ward Lu­cas Les­sio sev­enth over­all in the 2009 draft even though he had a schol­ar­ship of­fer at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan.

“I knew that there was go­ing to be a real good chance that he might not show up and he didn’t,” said Erie Ot­ters GM Dave Brown, who was at the helm in Ni­a­gara that year.

Les­sio par­tic­i­pated in Ni­a­gara’s ori­en­ta­tion camp but never signed with the club and was later traded to the Oshawa Gen­er­als.

“It’s hard not to take it per­sonal,” said Brown. “We had to work su­per hard the fol­low­ing year to get guys to re­port.”

Mon­treal Cana­di­ens de­fence­man Vic­tor Mete was also a noshow when the Owen Sound At­tack chose him eighth over­all in 2014.

“I had a good in­di­ca­tion that he wasn’t com­ing be­fore we selected him,” said At­tack GM Dale DeGray. “But I can tell you right now that it doesn’t make it any eas­ier to draft him. When you punch in his name (on a com­puter dur­ing the on­line draft) and know there is a good chance he’s not com­ing you still take a big gulp and press en­ter. I had never gone down that road be­fore. It was sort of un­char­tered wa­ters for me and the or­ga­ni­za­tion.” Mete’s is­sue was ed­u­ca­tion. “He wanted to go to a town that had a uni­ver­sity,” said Fer­ris, who rep­re­sents Mete. “That was very im­por­tant to the fam­ily. That was his con­cern.”

The rear­guard got his wish when he was traded to the Lon­don Knights months af­ter the draft.

Ni­a­gara was at a cross­roads yet again in the same draft when sixth over­all pick Lo­gan Brown didn’t re­port. The team tried to con­vince the highly touted cen­tre but was un­suc­cess­ful and traded him to Wind­sor.

“It cer­tainly sets you back,” said Ni­a­gara GM Joey Burke. “It’s some­thing you don’t want to deal with. If you’re able to avoid it and have a guy that will re­port then that makes it a lot eas­ier.” If not, a pay­day can be had. Teams that fail to sign their first rounders have a win­dow at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son to make a trade. If the player is moved, clubs get an ad­di­tional com­pen­satory first round pick in the fol­low­ing year’s draft, one slot af­ter their orig­i­nal se­lec­tion. And that’s on top of what­ever haul teams can get in a swap.

Ni­a­gara got five picks for Les­sio and six for Brown. Mete also net­ted six picks while Peter­bor­ough got seven, in­clud­ing three sec­ond rounders, from Wind­sor for Cuylle.

“They’ll never ad­mit it but I know some teams want some­one that isn’t go­ing to re­port so they can move him and get what they want, ex­tra picks and so forth,” said Fer­ris.

Some­times things can work out for both sides.

Ni­a­gara’s com­pen­satory pick af­ter los­ing Brown turned out to be Ve­gas Golden Knights prospect Ben Jones. The Water­loo na­tive be­came a prized piece in the team’s re­build and was named cap­tain this sea­son.

Mean­while, Brown went on to win a Me­mo­rial Cup with the Spit­fires.

“There is al­ways a sting,” said Burke. “But be­ing able to keep him in the league and get such a nice pack­age and all the bells and whis­tles cer­tainly makes it much eas­ier to stom­ach.”

For­ward Quin­ton By­field was ex­cited when Sud­bury selected him first over­all in this year’s draft and didn’t hes­i­tate to call Nickel City home even though the Wolves have missed the play­offs three of the past four years.

“I think what­ever team se­lects you, you should go,” he said. “That’s just my per­spec­tive.”

Not all play­ers are so ea­ger.

The Wolves had the first over­all pick three years ago and chose David Levin over higher rated for­wards such as Gabe Vi­lardi, Ryan McLeod and Owen Tip­pett be­cause none of the trio, ac­cord­ing to a league source, was keen on head­ing north.

Some play­ers sim­ply aren’t ready to move away from home while oth­ers want to play for a spe­cific club. And while few play­ers will ad­mit it pub­licly, some just don’t want to go to a strug­gling fran­chise.

“The teams that have sta­ble own­er­ship, man­age­ment and coach­ing are pop­u­lar,” said Fer­ris. “If there is a con­cern with the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s sta­bil­ity or own­er­ship’s treat­ment of play­ers it’s up to the team to ad­dress it and sat­isfy the con­cern. If they can’t, a player has to make a choice on whether he wants to go or not.”

GMs usu­ally have a sense if a player is leery about re­port­ing. Of­ten, agents will just come right out and say it.

In­stead of get­ting up­set, Dave Brown says it’s good to look in­ward. When one par­ent had an is­sue with Erie’s aca­demic model, he al­tered it.

In re­cent years, Peter­bor­ough has added sup­port staff, spruced up its play­ers’ lounge and im­proved its off-ice train­ing setup, among other things, to be more ap­peal­ing.

“I think deep down we all try to do what’s right for the kids,” Brown said. “Some­times in sit­u­a­tions you have to make changes.”

Burke re­lies on in-depth in­ter­views be­fore the draft to get a sense on whether a player will re­port or not.

“The bot­tom line is that if a guy isn’t ex­cited to come to Ni­a­gara then we’re not par­tic­u­larly ex­cited about bring­ing him in,” he said. “If they don’t want to be here then you never know what the chem­istry is go­ing to be with the whole team.”

DeGray has no ill-will to­ward Mete. The two have run into one an­other at Hockey Canada camps over the years and get along just fine.

“I didn’t draft Vic­tor to screw him over or hurt him,” he said. “I drafted him be­cause, for me, he was the best next player in the draft pe­riod, by a long shot. Par­ents want what’s best for their kids whether they’re right or wrong or who’s push­ing the but­tons. A lot of things come into play and you just hope it works out.”

GMs say the is­sue is a hot topic but that they haven’t re­ally dis­cussed no-shows at league meet­ings. The OHL did not re­spond to an in­ter­view re­quest for this story.

“I think one of the prob­lems is that in­stead of be­ing 20 teams strong, we talk badly about one an­other,” said Brown. “We think if we neg­a­tively re­cruit against one an­other, it’s go­ing to make us look bet­ter. Some­thing bad hap­pens to one of the teams and ev­ery­one talks about it. I try to get away from that.”

Cuylle was crit­i­cized when he by­passed Peter­bor­ough but has no re­grets.

“I think it’s fair for peo­ple to have an opin­ion but at the end of the day, it’s my hockey ca­reer,” he said. “You do have a say in where you want to play.”

Cuylle has 10 points through 15 games for Wind­sor and is a cen­tral part in the Spit­fires’ bid to re­build into a con­tender.

Mean­while, Peter­bor­ough is off to a sur­pris­ing 11-8 start and tied for sec­ond in the OHL’s eastern con­fer­ence.

“We didn’t make the pick with the in­tent of re­coup­ing draft picks or get­ting a com­pen­sa­tion pick,” said Oke. “We made the pick with the idea of get­ting the player. It was un­for­tu­nate that we weren’t able to have him come and play here.

“I don’t think you can af­ford to take any­thing per­sonal in this busi­ness. Every­body has the right to make their own de­ci­sions. We’re ex­cited about the di­rec­tion we’re headed.”


Wind­sor Spit­fires for­ward Willy Cuylle is hav­ing a pro­duc­tive sea­son af­ter re­fus­ing to re­port to the Peter­bor­ough Petes, the OHL team that drafted him.


Peter­bor­ough gen­eral man­ager Mike Oke tried to con­vince third over­all draft pick Will Cuylle to re­port to the Petes but end­ing up trad­ing him to Wind­sor.

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