May 4th: The Top 10 draft picks in Otters history

This Saturday, all 20 Ontario Hockey League teams will participate in the 2011 OHL Priority Selection. It’s a process that requires 15 rounds, and each pick is pivotal to a team’s future.


The Otters have had many successful draft picks since their arrival in Erie in 1996, when the draft was held off-site and the team didn’t have a name yet (it was officially announced days later).


With 15 drafts in the books for the Otters and the 16th coming up this weekend, now is a good time to choose the top 10 draft picks in Otters history. There was a lot of thought put into this, and some good players were cut out of the final list.


To help whittle down that list, players selected in the top five were disqualified, leaving out Ryan O’Reilly, Greg McKegg and Ryan O’Marra. I debated about disqualifying all first round selections, but I figured that the top five would be a good cutoff.


Stats played a role on the list, as did life after the Otters in the professional ranks. Placement of picks also weighed in on this ranking. Here are my thoughts on the top 10 Otters draft picks of all-time.


10. Anthony Luciani – 6th round, 104th overall in the 2006 OHL Priority Selection

A late bloomer who finally cracked the Erie lineup as an 18 year-old in 2008, and broke through with two great offensive seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11. Luciani’s 73 goals are ninth all-time in franchise history. He signed an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers following the 2010-11 season.


9. Chris Campoli – 2nd round, 30th overall in the 2000 OHL Priority Selection

2004 CHL Humanitarian of the Year was active in the community during his four seasons in Erie. Campoli still holds the team record for most points by a defenseman with 150. He was drafted by the New York Islanders in 2004, and was selected to the AHL All-Rookie Team in 2004-05, no small feat as several talented players were in the AHL due to the NHL lockout. He now plays for the Chicago Blackhawks.


8. Adam Munro – 3rd round, 58th overall in the 1998 OHL Priority Selection

Arguably the best goalie the Otters have selected in the OHL Priority Selection to date, Munro holds the team records for best goals-against average (2.91) and save percentage (.903). Drafted in the first round by the Blackhawks in 2000, he appeared in 17 games at the NHL level.  He now plays in Italy for SG Cortina.


7. Tim Connolly – 1st round, 6th overall in the 1997 OHL Priority Selection

A native of New York State, Connolly scored at over a point per game pace in two seasons with the Erie Otters. He jumped straight into the NHL after being drafted with the fifth overall pick by the Islanders in 1999, and has maintained a successful NHL career with the Buffalo Sabres. He has also represented the United States at the World Junior Championships and IIHF World Championships.


6. Jason Baird – 6th round, 96th overall in the 1997 OHL Priority Selection

One of the earliest fan favorites in team history cracked the lineup as a 16 year-old with his agitating style of play and ability to provide offense. Baird is third in team history with 218 points and first with 699 penalty minutes. He played eight seasons in the Central Hockey League until a lawnmower accident cut his career short in 2008. Erieites and alumni responded with a benefit that raised over $30,000 for Baird’s medical bills.


5. Shawn Szydlowski – 10th round, 184th overall in the 2006 OHL Priority Selection

Although he contemplated playing college hockey, the Otters took a chance on the son of a former Erie Golden Blades defenseman and it paid dividends starting in 2007. The Michigan native is fifth in all-time point scoring for the Otters with 195, and tied for fourth in goals with 95. Szydlowski signed an entry-level contract with the Buffalo Sabres following the 2010-11 season.


4. Justin Hodgman – 13th round, 242nd overall in the 2005 OHL Priority Selection

A late selection who panned out as the Otters’ best choice in the 2005 draft, Hodgman is fourth in all-time scoring with 217 points. He bounced between the AHL and ECHL this season with the Toronto Marlies and Reading Royals, respectively, and has played in 90 career AHL games.


3. Carlo Colaiacovo – 3rd round, 50th overall in the 1999 OHL Priority Selection

A steady two-way defenseman with the Otters who eventually became a first round pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2001. Colaiacovo tallied 136 points in 209 games during a stellar Otters career. After being marred by injuries during his Leafs tenure, he’s found a home with the St. Louis Blues where he’s been one of their top blueliners. Colaiacovo has represented Canada twice at the World Juniors and once at the IIHF World Championships.


2. Mike Cazzola – 13th round, 241st overall in the 2007 OHL Priority Selection

Also a keen lacrosse player in his hometown of Guelph, Cazzola has been the Otters version of Martin St. Louis with slick two-way play in a small package. He’s just one of three players drafted by the Otters to average a point per game with the team, and the only one of those players drafted out of the first round. With 180 points in 179 career games, Cazzola should surely wind up in the top five in all-time team scoring should he play in his overage season. Easily the biggest steal in Otters draft history.


1. Brad Boyes – 1st round, 12th overall in the 1998 OHL Priority Selection

No surprise here, but consider the circumstances. He was rated as an 11th-round prospect by OHL Central Scouting and his selection by the Otters drew gasps from the crowd at the draft in Barrie, much like the selection of Mario Williams over Reggie Bush by the Texans years ago. In both cases, the teams definitely got it right, and there’s no question the Boyes is the best player in Otters history with 309 points, still a team record. As captain, he led the Otters to their first OHL championship. His No. 16 jersey was the first to be retired by the Otters, and Boyes has had a terrific NHL career with the Bruins, Blues and Sabres.


The Otters will draft 12th on Saturday, for the first time since that fateful pick in 1998. I hope that’s a sign.

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