Who’s No. 1?
That’s the question everybody’s asking in Drummondville, Que., on Friday, as suspense continues to build heading into the annual QMJHL draft on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. Atlantic.
Nobody is quite sure what is going to happen, with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar holding the first overall pick but facing a mess of a situation after consensus top prospect Michael Matheson went public with his plan to play U.S. college hockey instead of report to a QMJHL team.
Drakkar general manager Steve Ahern continues to give the same public answer he has for weeks.
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“We’re planning to take Matheson,” Ahern said. “My owner, he’s with me, and everybody in Baie-Comeau is with me. We’ve made the decision for now. We’ll check that in a meeting (late Friday) but for now, I won’t change my decision about that.”
Ahern said he’s willing to accept the risk of Matheson not reporting to Baie-Comeau, but hopes the swift-skating, puck-moving defenceman will change his mind “next week, in two months or next year” with a little bit of hard work.
If the Drakkar did take Matheson No. 1 and he didn’t play in 2010-11, the club could receive compensation in the 2011 draft with the first pick of the second round.
The Halifax Mooseheads pick second overall, while the Chicoutimi Sagueneens pick third.
Ahern said if he isn’t using the pick on Matheson, trading it away is his second option. He said two teams have put significant trade offers on the table in an effort to move up.
“A lot of teams are calling,” he said.
Sniper Luca Ciampini, believed to be the object of the Mooseheads’ affection, is ranked second, while hard-shooting defenceman Dominic Poulin is ranked third. Neither player has ruled out reporting to Baie-Comeau.
“I need a good offer to change my decision (to draft Matheson),” Ahern said. “For me to pick another player, we need somebody to knock me in the head and tell me another thing. But for now … I have a hard head.”
Critics have suggested Matheson is trying to handpick the team he ends up with by playing the NCAA card to scare undesirable clubs away. But QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau said Friday he has already looked into the matter after meeting with the family on Thursday.
“I had a very good conversation (with Matheson’s mother),” Courteau said. “She’s been very up front with me. She said, ‘There is no side-deal, there is no scheme, there is nothing. We have met Baie-Comeau and Halifax and have been clear to both of them that our plan was not to send our son to play major junior next year. We want him to finish high school and after that my son wants to go to the United States (to play college hockey).’”
Courteau said the QMJHL has to respect a player’s decision to go the NCAA route, then added, “on the other side, (if I was) a team operator, I would draft him.”
Matheson was one of three prospects absent from the first-round showcase at Drummondville’s Cegep on Friday. Goaltender Jacob Brennan, a Halifax native ranked 18th, and Stefan Matteau, a fifth-ranked left-winger, were the others. Both have said they’re going the NCAA route as well.
More than 80 per cent attendance at the annual showcase is rare, and Courteau said new draft rules — which allow a punishment of $100,000 and a loss of future draft picks — have straightened up teams that have attempted to manipulate the draft in past years.
“I think our governors and team managers fully respect the new rules in place, fully respect the consequences,” he said. “Until I see something contrary to what I’m telling you I personally think the new rules we have put in place are working.”
The Mooseheads may consider moving up to draft Ciampini. Depending on what the Drakkar do, they could also trade down, especially if Ciampini goes off the board with the top pick.