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Junior hockey for the sake of development

In the midst of winning hockey games, junior hockey is still about developing players

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In all sports, the emphasis is placed on wins and losses, regardless of the level.

In the Ontario Hockey League, looking at team records and the standings from year to year, it’s easy to forget what the league is really about, developing players.

With the NHL Entry Draft in the rear-view mirror, OHL teams will continue to prepare for the 2017-18 season and leagues continue to promote the number of players drafted from their respective teams.

For the Soo Greyhounds, the organization has become a market that has continued to regularly produce NHL prospects, including three more in last weeks NHL draft and 10 in the past three drafts. Among those 10 players, the only players who have yet to sign entry level contracts are Morgan Frost, Conor Timmins and Matthew Villalta, who were all selected this year.

Consider that the Greyhounds have also produced the likes of Edmonton Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse, Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray and Vegas Golden Knights defenceman Colin Miller, who spent last season with the Boston Bruins.

All three recent NHL picks spoke of the developments in their respective games heading into the draft.

In playing for former defencemen Drew Bannister and Joe Cirella, who both played at the pro level, Timmins, a second round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, said “the learning never stops. They’re constantly teaching you.”

A first round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, Frost spoke of how he developed “a lot as a player and a person.”

At the draft, Frost called being drafted by the Greyhounds “a blessing.”

“It was the perfect situation for me. They do such a great job developing players,” Frost said.

For Greyhounds General Manager Kyle Raftis, the ability to develop players is something that has got the team respect from professional teams in recent years.

“From a broad sense, it’s a great thing for the organization because it means NHL teams are respecting the development path that our players are taking,” Raftis said.

“It’s something that we’re extremely proud of,” Raftis added. “We’ve always looked at it as being a hockey development machine when you come to the Sault. We don’t want to necessarily have to make a ton of trades every year. You want to make sure you draft and develop your players because there’s obviously a recipe for success through that.”

Raftis would also say, the Greyhounds ability to develop players into quality NHL prospects is something that helps draw players to the organization.

Following the annual Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, Raftis said he hopes it will help influence Swedish defenceman Rasmus Sandin and Finnish forward Rasmus Kupari to join the team for next season.

“Both players are under contracts in Europe so it’s going to be a situation where we’re going to have to work at it this summer and promote our program,” Raftis said.

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Brad Coccimiglio

About the Author: Brad Coccimiglio

A graduate of Loyalist College’s Sports Journalism program, Brad Coccimiglio’s work has appeared in The Hockey News as well as online at in addition to regular freelance work with SooToday before joining the team full time.
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