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DeBrincat aiming to make draft history

Alex DeBrincat of the Erie Otters. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.It's been a long time coming given the far off success of players like Yvan Cournoyer, Henri Richard, Dennis Maruk, and Theo Fleury  before and after the inception of the modern NHL draft in 1969, but it appears that NHL scouts are at least toying with the idea of drafting a player under 5-8 in the first round for the first time in history.

Erie winger Alex DeBrincat is serving notice to the scouting community that his terrific OHL rookie season was not simply a by-product of riding on Connor McDavid's coattails, especially after tallying 22 goals in his first 15 games of the 2015-16 season.  He's on pace to score 90+ goals and shatter the OHL goal-scoring record.

"It's still early, but if he keeps scoring at that pace you'd have to think teams that can properly insulate a smaller guy might step up and take him in the first round," said one scout. "He's a smart hockey player and he competes...he's not just a one-way offensive guy."

In the past when a Dan Hodgson, Daniel Metivier, or Ernie Godden lit up the scoreboard at the junior level it was essentially ignored by the amateur scouts because they weren't tall or decidedly quicker than everyone else.

Attitudes are gradually changing however as teams move away from a fascination with brawn . Forwards and defencemen under 5-10 are getting drafted in the first round of the NHL draft, and not because the average adult male is shrinking.

"The game is getting quicker all of the time" said one scout. "There is little place for the big, tough 6-5 plodders any more.  Then you look at the success of Tyler Johnson who went undrafted, or Brendan Gallagher who was a later pick. If a team has the right makeup I don't see why they wouldn't consider a guy like DeBrincat late in the first round."

The OHL has seen a variance in drafting philosophy since the start of the decade.  A draft dominated by size has been slowly shifting towards a more even balance.  In 2010 four players under 6-0 were drafted in the OHL's first round, and all were taller than 5-10. By 2013, seven players who at the time were under 5-10 (including Travis Konecny with the first pick and 5-7.5 Mitch Marner with the last), were picked in the first round.

The trend is most noticeable on defence.  Not long ago it was rare to see a blueliner under 5-11 drafted in the first round of the OHL draft, and about once every five years in the NHL.  As more and more large defencemen like Jamie Oleksiak, Jarred Tinordi, and Dylan McIlrath lose NHL employment to smaller puck movers like Justin Faulk who were picked later in the draft, it has become apparent to NHL teams that there was too much emphasis on size thanks to the success of teams like Boston at the turn of the decade.

"Defencemen have to be able to skate and move the puck in today's NHL," says one scout, who also happens to think Shawinigan defenceman Samuel Girard is a strong candidate for the first round of the draft despite being just 5-9.5.  "He's such a dynamic player...tremendous skating and passing skill.  He should be able to run an NHL power play some day..and that's a pretty essential dimension for a blueliner in today's NHL."

Canada's roster at this past summer's Ivan Hlinka tournament offered tangible proof that there is a changing of the rearguard well underway.  All seven of Canada's defencemen were under 6-1, including three who were 5-9 or shorter (Girard, David Quenneville and Victor Mete).  It wasn't that long ago that all seven blueliners selected for the annual event were invariably 6-1 or taller.

"The 6-5 defenceman with limited skill is going the way of the dinosaur," noted one eastern conference scout.  "If you can't move the puck and skate, you are not getting picked in the first round no matter how tough or imposing."

The times are indeed a-changing.