Feeling The Draft From Miles Away

Draft has benefits for college teams as well as players

June 21, 2007

By Elliot Olshansky

CSTV.com

 



ELLIOT OLSHANSKY

Elliot is CSTV.com's hockey editor and runs his Rink Rat hockey blog on CSTV.com.
E-mail here!

This weekend, at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, a total of 210 players will have their names called in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. There will be 210 proud moments, 210 more steps taken on the road to fulfilling lifelong dreams and 210 decisions made that will alter the directions of every young man's career.

 

At some level, though, the effects of this weekend will be felt beyond those 210 young men and the 30 NHL franchises that select them. A player drafted by an NHL team is a feather in the cap of the team he comes from, be it a college team, a major junior program, a European club, a high school, or any other avenue of development. In the case of incoming college freshmen, two programs get the rub from the draft: the junior program he's played with and the school he'll be arriving at in the fall.


 

 

 

For some of those schools, hearing a player's name called in late June isn't particularly new. Michigan, Boston College, and Minnesota are among the collegiate programs who have been very well represented in the draft in recent years, and face little, if any, doubt about their potential to develop players for the NHL. For others, though, there's a kind of legitimacy that comes when a player is selected in the NHL Entry Draft, one that wasn't there before.

 

Just ask Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell, who's among those hoping for a similar boost in this year's draft. Incoming freshman forward Casey Pierro-Zabotel, the jewel of a strong Huskies recruiting class, is ranked 75th by Central Scouting, a regular occurrence for other WCHA teams like Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, but a relative rarity for the Huskies, who haven't had a player drafted in the third round since the Washington Capitals selected goalie David Weninger in 1996, and have had just six players selected in the 10 drafts since.

 

"It's great media coverage and attention for your hockey program when you get a player that's committed to your program that's going to get drafted fairly high," Russell said, "and it shows that these players consider your program as one of the up and coming. Certainly, we're a program with very rich tradition, and we've got a number of players who have gone on and played in the National Hockey League and have been drafted, but the landscape of recruiting in college hockey has changed, and to have a player that's committed to our program that's going to get drafted fairly high is certainly a feather in our cap."

 

For Sacred Heart head coach Shaun Hannah, meanwhile, the draft represented a leg up in recruiting. 

 

In 2003, incoming Pioneers goaltender Jason Smith was selected by the New Jersey Devils in the sixth round of the draft, and for the past four years, Hannah has had the distinction of being the only coach in Atlantic Hockey with an NHL draft pick on his roster.

 

"It speaks to the quality of athletes that you're attracting to your program," Hannah said. "If you have a drafted boy that is either drafted while he's here or drafted before he gets here, I think it speaks to that, and then obviously, it does some positive things in terms of PR for your program, because that boy and his potential as a National Hockey League prospect is mentioned frequently, and I think that can be a positive thing for your program."

 

Playing home games at a small community rink in Milford, Conn., may not seem a particularly attractive option for the player who harbors dreams of playing in the professional ranks one day, but having a player on the roster who's regarded highly enough to be drafted by an NHL team certainly makes for a credibility boost on the recruiting trail, particularly in comparison to league opponents who don't have that distinction.

 

"If you have a drafted boy on your team," Hannah said, "your ability to say that you have a boy that was drafted and is playing for you is a positive thing in recruiting, because it speaks to the quality of the experience and the quality of the development opportunity that your program has."

 

In other words, the program develops the player, and the player develops the program, a symbiotic relationship that Dave Peters, top lieutenant to Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet, is quite familiar with.

 

"I think it helps," Peters said of the draft. "I think it adds to the profile of the program. Kids do want to get an education, and they want to win, but they also want to develop and play at the next level, so if kids get drafted out of a certain program, I think it definitely helps the profile of the program, and can help you get future kids."

 

The Big Green had become a big nothing in college hockey by the time Gaudet returned to his alma mater in 1997, having gone without a winning season since 1980-81, but strong recruiting was recognized in the draft before too long, with goaltender Nick Boucher drafted in the ninth round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2000 and defenseman Trevor Byrne selected in the fifth round by the St. Louis Blues in 1999.

 

As players like Boucher and Byrne helped Dartmouth succeed on the ice, more high-end players made their way to Hanover, and greater draft success followed. Forward Hugh Jessiman was drafted by the New York Rangers in 2003 (the same year that current St. Louis Blues forward Lee Stempniak was drafted in the fifth round), and defenseman Grant Lewis went to the Atlanta Thrashers in the second round the next year.  

 

Others have followed, including forwards Nick Johnson, J.T. Wyman and David Jones, and while freshman forward T.J. Galiardi, ranked 31st among North American skaters by the NHL's Central Scouting Service, will not return to Dartmouth next season because of academic issues, two incoming freshmen, defenseman Joe Stejskal and forward Matt Reber, are ranked by CSS (95th and 197th, respectively), and will arrive in Hanover this fall to try to help add to a list of team accomplishments that includes an ECAC Hockey regular-season title in 2006 and an Ivy League championship in 2007.

 

"I feel like it's been some changed momentum for our program," Peters said, "whether it be the 4,000 fans in our building or the highest Ivy player ever drafted [Jessiman] or the seven straight winning-seasons, the three draft picks in the top 100 [in 2003], it changes momentum for our program."

 

Certainly, seeing top recruits drafted can lead to a few uneasy nights down the road, when the question of NHL teams signing these players, but for the programs that aren't currently "name brands" who could see incoming freshmen drafted this weekend, including Michigan Tech, Mercyhurst (Scott Pitt) and Ferris State (Pat Maroon), among others, it's the "mouth" of the proverbial "gift horse," and they have no intention of looking.