There are riches waiting for the Ontario Hockey League GM who outmanoeuvres his counterparts at the trade deadline, even though there might not be a Ritchie available.
The NHL's labour armageddon (hat tip to Howard Bloom) has left junior teams wishing to rebuild in dark over whether they can package off star players who could be spirited away. The OHL trade deadline is Jan. 10, right around the supposed drop date for a NHL season.
That has kept the hot stove league cool heading into the holiday trade freeze which expires next week (Windsor Spitfires coach Bob Boughner recently: “Everybody’s wondering what’s going to happen with the lockout. Even the teams that are going for it aren’t making any moves.") Coach-GM Marty Williamson's Niagara IceDogs have the best available 19-year-old centre, power winger and No. 1 defenceman in their fold respectively in Ryan Strome, Brett Ritchie and Dougie Hamilton, but how can they deal without knowing how long any of the Team Canada trio are for junior puck?
Rest assured, though, some big names will have new jerseys once the deadline expires three weeks from Thursday. It is an inevitability; it's too early to wonder who is headed where, but there is a pretty good idea of the five most highly sought after players who do not wear IceDogs black and red.
Cody Ceci, defenceman, Ottawa 67's — The big-league organization which is co-tenants with Ceci's junior team are cool with him moving. The 67's are also jazzed by the idea whereby someone's future franchise defenceman Sean Day enters the OHL draft at age 15 and they finish dead last so they can, as per Don Campbell, land him "in advance of the team's return to the (Ottawa) Civic Centre in 2014-15."
The 6-foot-3 Ceci is a minutes-muncher and an excellent power-play quarterback, even if a surfeit of maturing 18-year-old defenders left him out of a selection-camp invite from Hockey Canada. A team which needs another defenceman and can chance sacrificing its best 16-year-old (only first-rounders can be traded in the OHL) might go for Ceci.
Tyler Graovac, centre/left wing, Ottawa 67's — Someone will need a big forward who can skate. Graovac was slowed by a groin injury in the final few weeks of the first half, but has 18 goals and 30 points in 26 games with a very young team. The 6-foot-4, 203-pound Graovac is also unique on this list in that he's always accepted supporting roles up until this season. Ottawa has always had someone else such as current star Sean Monahan or recent grads Tyler Toffoli and Shane Prince taking the lead offensively. That might help Graovac slide in with a team which is married to having three big forwards but just needs another potent stick in the lineup. The 19-year-old is also a good two-way player and penalty killer.
Slater Koekkoek, defenceman, Peterborough Petes — Regardless of speculation, the just-the-facts-ma'am is that the Petes are 14 points out of a playoff spot with 33 games left. Koekkoek still has his age-19 season. A rule of thumb is not to move a precious player so early, since there is no knowing how quickly the rest of a young and/or developing roster might mature. However, the Tampa Bay Lightning first-round pick is widely being depicted as on the move. There is also trade speculation surrounding the last-place Petes.
— Sunaya Sapurji (@sunayas) December 18, 2012
It is dicey for Peterborough's transitional GM tandem of coach Mike Pelino and directer of player personnel Mike Oke. Koekkoek's trade value could be higher in the off-season. Ceci and Hamilton will be out of the league and the Bolts prospect will be the league's highest-drafted 19-year-old D-man at that point.
Alan Quine, centre, Peterborough Petes — The Detroit Red Wings third-rounder is a good playmaker. With 11 points in his last nine games, Quine might be showing signs that he has overcome the setback of losing about six weeks of the season due to mononucleosis. The 19-year-old would be ideal for a team which needs another centre, which has been a dig made toward both the Kitchener Rangers and Owen Sound Attack, come to think of it. Quine can be viewed as this season's version of Boston Bruins prospect Ryan Spooner, whom he was once traded for; he might not be the best centre available but he's a good silver medal. Spooner went from Kingston to Sarnia at the 2012 deadline.
Vincent Trocheck, centre, Saginaw Spirit — Will Spirit GM Jim Paliafito, the most interesting man in junior hockey, get an offer he cannot refuse for his most prolific centre? The lockout-enforced wariness will mean teams on the playoff bubble such as the Spirit have to determine if it's worth it to a lower return than what they could get for Trocheck under normal circumstances.
Would take big price, may not be enough buyers for bidding war. RT @alexwalsh6: Do you think Trocheck will be traded?
— Loosepucks.com (@loosepucks) December 19, 2012
Trocheck (24 goals, 50 points, plus-18 in 35 games) is a terrific catch if he's available. The Florida Panthers third-rounder has been skating with Sarnia Sting superstar Alex Galchenyuk during Team USA's national junior camp. An excellent tournament could make him a more tempting target, just saying.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.