NCAA 2009 draft review

By DJ Powers

Despite having no players selected in the first half of first round, the NCAA fared quite well at this year’s draft. Sixty-four of the 210 players selected are current or future collegians. All 30 NHL teams took at least one collegian. Chicago, Florida, Minnesota, Nashville, Ottawa, Vancouver and host Montreal took the most with four each.

The 64 players chosen represent 27 NCAA teams in the top four conferences. The WCHA once again led the way with 26 picks, followed by Hockey East with 14 and the CCHA and the ECAC with 12 each. Of the 64 players chosen all but seven are incoming recruits either this fall or in the fall of 2010 or in 2011.

The seventh round saw the most collegians chosen with 14, followed by the second and fifth rounds with 10 each. The first round saw seven collegians taken and all went in the latter half.

The University of Minnesota had the first collegian (and American) taken in the draft when incoming defenseman and 2009 Mr. Hockey Award recipient Nick Leddy was taken by the Minnesota Wild with the 16th overall selection.

The Vancouver Canucks, who seems to have built a nice prospect pipeline to the University of Minnesota, added WCHA Rookie of the Year Jordan Schroeder to their pool of prospects with the 22nd overall selection. Schroeder joins teammates Patrick White and Taylor Matson as the current Golden Gophers who are Canucks property.

The draft deal that sent Jay Bouwmeester’s negotiating rights to the Calgary Flames involved two players with Minnesota connections. Former Golden Gophers defenseman Jordan Leopold, along with the 67th overall selection, which became incoming freshman Josh Birkholz, went to the Florida Panthers.

One of the best stories coming out of the draft where the NCAA was concerned was that of St. Cloud State University. The Huskies saw six players taken, tying the University of Minnesota with the most collegiate picks in this year’s draft. St. Cloud State has an outstanding freshman class coming in this fall that include third round selections of goaltender Mike Lee (91st overall to Phoenix) and high school scoring sensation Ben Hanowski (63rd overall to Pittsburgh). The Huskies also had one of the surprise picks in the draft when the Philadelphia Flyers opted to go off the board in the seventh round to take towering sophomore-to-be defenseman Oliver Lauridsen with the 196th overall selection.

The Edmonton Oilers raised a few eyebrows when they selected Minnetonka high school defenseman Troy Hesketh with the 71st overall pick (third round). Hesketh, the youngest future collegian taken in the draft, has verbally committed to Wisconsin for the fall of 2011. What many draft followers may not be aware of is that Minnetonka does a have an Edmonton connection. The Skippers head coach Brian Urick was a draft selection of the Oilers himself back in 1996.

Merrimack College was another great story coming out of this year’s draft. The Warriors’ last NHL-drafted player was back in 2002 when RW Matt Foy was taken by the Minnesota Wild 175th overall (sixth round). This fall they will have two on their roster. Sophomore-to-be goaltender Joe Cannata was taken by Vancouver in the sixth round (173rd overall), while incoming defenseman Kyle Bigos went to Edmonton in the fourth round (99th overall).

While the CCHA didn’t fare quite as well overall in this year’s draft as they have in previous years, one team had a very impressive showing. The Miami RedHawks had four players taken, which was the most of any team in the conference. Two of the RedHawks, netminder Connor Knapp and defenseman Chris Wideman both were members of the Miami team that made it all the way to the national championship game this past April. Knapp is the latest in a string of top-flight collegiate goaltenders that the Buffalo Sabres have drafted, going 164th overall (sixth round). Wideman, selected 100th overall (fourth round), is the latest addition to the Ottawa Senators collection of collegiate offensive-minded defensemen in their system. A pair of incoming wingers drafted by the Dallas Stars round out Miami’s picks in Curtis McKenzie (159th overall, sixth round) and Reilly Smith (69th overall, third round).

“I’m kind of undersized right now, so I might need that time to grow and just to mature,” Smith said about the possibility of staying at Miami for the duration. “The plan is (to stay) four years right now. If I believe that I can make a difference to step out of college after three years or two years, I’ll see. But it all comes down to me and how I feel, if I’m able to make a difference at the next level."

The late-round pick that could potentially go down as the best in this year’s draft where NCAA players are concerned is the one that the Toronto Maple Leafs made in the sixth round. In that round, the Leafs chose outstanding RPI-bound forward Jerry D’Amigo with the 158th pick.

“I had a lots of interviews with them,” D’Amigo said when asked if he had any idea that Toronto would draft him. “They definitely asked me about how my season went. There were a lot of things that went on (with the NTDP)."

One anomaly of the draft involved incoming Notre Dame forward Kyle Palmieri, who had the rather odd-distinction of becoming the player that came out of the most well-traveled pick of the draft. Before the Anaheim Ducks ended up with the pick (26th overall), it changed teams five times. The pick originally belonged to the San Jose Sharks. It was then traded to Tampa Bay, Ottawa, Columbus and finally to Anaheim.

There were also a number of notable players not taken in this year’s draft that included highly-touted North Dakota recruit Danny Mattson, Northern Michigan power forward Justin Florek and incoming Wisconsin defenseman John Ramage, who is the son of former NHLer Rob Ramage.

Ramage is among a number of incoming freshmen this fall whose father played in the NHL. Another is defenseman Alex Velischek, who is one of the two Pittsburgh Penguins collegiate draft picks with NHL bloodlines. Velischek, selected in the fifth round (123rd overall), had explored the possibility of playing Canadian Major Junior, but will follow in his father Randy’s footsteps to Providence College this fall.

“"I looked into it a little bit, an opportunity to come to Montreal to play in the "Q", but I don’t know if I’m going to do that at this point,” said Velischek. “I’m going to honor my commitment to Providence and see where that takes me.”

When the 2009-2010 season gets underway in the fall, Boston College and the University of Denver will feature two of the nation’s best incoming classes and part of that could be seen in the players that were taken in this year’s draft. Four of Boston College’s five selected players were chosen in the first three rounds, led by C Chris Keider, who was taken by the New York Rangers with the 19th overall pick. Denver saw two of their three draft players taken consecutively in the second round when incoming defenseman William Wrenn was selected by the San Jose Sharks with the 43rd overall pick, followed by the selection of hometown center Drew Shore to the Florida Panthers at 44.

“I grew up there when they won the back-to-back national championships in ’04 and ’05,” Shore replied when asked why he chose to go to Denver. “Their coaches I’m really fond of and they’ve put a lot of players in the NHL recently, so I think it’s a really good place to develop.”

One NHL team that fared quite well with their collegiate picks at the draft was host Montreal. The Canadiens, who have shown a penchant for drafting Ivy Leaguers over the years, continued that trend this year. Their first pick, much to the delight of the hometown crowd, was local boy Louis Leblanc with the 18th overall selection. Leblanc heads what is shaping up to be Harvard’s best incoming class of the Ted Donato coaching era. The class also includes RW Alexander Fallstrom, who went to the Minnesota Wild with the 116th pick overall (fourth round). The other soon-to-be Ivy Leaguer chosen by Montreal was C Dustin Walsh with the 169th pick (sixth round). Walsh will be joining fellow Canadiens prospect Joe Stejskal at Dartmouth College this fall.

Leblanc, along with defenseman John Moore (selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets 21st overall) are two players where questions about going the Canadian Major Junior route instead of the NCAA had been looming well before the draft. Leblanc has stated on several occasions that he will be at Harvard this fall. His QMJHL rights are held by the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.

“I need to get bigger and stronger and I think a few years at Harvard won’t hurt and when I’m ready, I’m going to leave and try to make this (Montreal) team,” Leblanc said. “I’m going to start off and see how it goes and then if I’m ready after a year or two I’m going to leave. You can always go back and finish your degree. It’s arguably one of the best universities around. I’m looking forward to the challenge on and off the ice and I’m going to make the best out of it.”

Meanwhile Moore, who is expected to be at Colorado College in the fall, is being heavily courted by the Kitchener Rangers, who hold his OHL rights.

Looking ahead to the 2010 draft

Incoming Minnesota State-Mankato freshman right wing Tyler Pitlick is the early top collegian in next year’s draft. Pitlick, the nephew of former NHL defenseman Lance Pitlick, was a Mr. Hockey finalist after leading Centennial High School in scoring with 64 points (31 goals, 33 assists) in 25 games this past season.