By Chris Hofley
There’s a lot of pride that comes with being an Ottawa 67’s draft selection.
That’s particularly true when it comes to the club’s first round draft picks over the years and it will continue to be true when the famed junior club’s 2017 first-round selection, forward and Ottawa native Graeme Clarke, hits the ice Saturday morning for 67’s Development Camp.
“I’m really excited,” said Clarke on Friday during his school lunch break. “After draft day, I was really looking forward to getting started and meeting the guys.”
Like the first-round picks that came before him – Peter Stratis last year, Austen Keating before him, Travis Barron before Keating and Travis Konecny before that – Clark is a player the 67’s wanted, one they hope will make an impact on the club for the next four years.
But also like the Barrons and the Konecnys and the other first-round choices that are getting or will soon get a taste of the NHL dream, there’s no rush. When it comes to junior players in general and particularly when it comes to high-end picks, it’s all about easing them into their new hockey life.
It’s a philosophy that goes back to the Brian Kilrea days; draft a player and, no matter the skill, let them earn their minutes. Start them off on a lower line and see how they fight in a league that is a significant step up speed and physicality-wise to Minor Midget, where Clarke put up 51 points in 33 games with the Toronto Marlboros last year. Before that, he was earning praise as a 13-year-old when he put up 79, including 56 goals, in just 27 games for the Ottawa Senators Minor Bantam AAA club.
But the OHL is different and there will be a process when it comes to including Clarke and fellow first-year players to the grind of the league, where the 5-foot-11, 161-pound rookie will go head-to-head with 20-year-olds.
“He’s 16, he’s just a kid and there’s an adjustment for 16-year-olds in our league,” said 67’s Associate Coach Mike Eastwood. “But I expect him to move along very quickly. This is a kid that excels when he plays with good players. You can’t teach scoring and he can score, so there’s no doubt in our mind he’s going to push himself up the lineup.”
While this weekend’s camp serves more as an orientation than a tryout, Clarke can’t wait to get on the ice with his fellow 67’s prospects and start building towards his rookie campaign in the OHL. Though he acknowledges there will be some nerves early on, he has no intention of trying to be any kind of player other than the kind that caught the attention of many OHL scouts.
“I want to go in there and perform well but I’m still going to play my game and not try to do too much,” said Clarke. “I really just want to keep showing them what I can do.
When drafting players, character is also a big factor and Eastwood said Clarke has that in spades.
“He’s a driven hockey player and a great young man,” No one works harder on and off the ice. We’re really excited to have him here; he was the best scorer in the draft. – Eastwood
“He’s going to be an exciting player for our fans to watch over the next four years.”
The Ottawa 67’s kick off Development Camp Saturday morning with a scrimmage beginning at 11 a.m. at the University of Ottawa. Both Saturday and Sunday’s scrimmages, 11 am – 1 pm both days, are open to the public.