Off The Radar: Jevpalovs finds a home, but quartet still trying to attract NHL attention

By David Hahn
Nikita Jevpalovs - Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

Photo: Blainville-Boisbriand Armada forward Nikita Jevpalovs had been passed over three times in the NHL Draft but was just signed to a contract by the San Jose Sharks (courtesy of Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

 

The NHL Draft often signals the beginning of a future professional career for many young hopefuls. For those not drafted, it can become a motivator to improve and put in the work necessary in order to be noticed. The Off the Radar article is a monthly feature that spotlights prospects that have been overlooked in previous drafts who could be worthy of another chance.

Nikita Jevpalovs – Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Forward, 6’1”, 210 lbs., Riga, Latvia

There have been a few interesting chapters in the curious case of Nikita Jevpalovs. The Latvian has been a staple of his country’s junior team, having captained the U-18 squad while tallying 15 goals and 18 assists in 34 career international games. He scored a memorable overtime goal against Denmark to gain Latvia’s qualification for the main tournament.

Fluent in Latvian, Russian, and English, Jevpalovs avoided the typical European bias by playing for the South Muskoka Shield in the Greater Metro Hockey League where he was named Rookie of the Year. After playing at home for one season, Blainville-Boisbriand used their first round CHL Import Draft selection on Jevpalovs, where he was added to one of the strongest teams in the league. Over his three seasons in the QMJHL, he has consistently improved and increased his point total in each consecutive season while being one of the most durable players in the league.

When it comes to the NHL Draft, however, he has been passed over multiple times. In 2012 he was ranked 97th among international skaters as one of the youngest available players, but was not selected due to being a relative unknown. In 2013, scouts shied away despite Jevpalovs being named as one of Latvia’s top three talents as an underage player. Last season, it looked like Jevpalovs had some hope as he was ranked again, this time 152nd on the North American list, but the result was the same as he would go undrafted for a third time.

All was not lost for him, though, as he earned an invitation to the Philadelphia Flyers training camp and got the chance to showcase his talents. After the camp, he was sent back to Blainville-Boisbriand where he has taken another step forward as one of the top five scorers in the QMJHL. His name might not have been a known commodity three years ago, but there is no doubt that the next chapter in his career should be in the professional ranks.*

Andrew Mangiapane – Barrie Colts
Forward, 5’10”, 161 lbs., Bolton, ON

The Barrie Colts struck gold when Andrew Mangiapane showed up at a free agent camp prior to the 2013-14 season. The diminutive forward impressed enough to earn a spot at that camp after a respectable season with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens in the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL). Despite his size, Mangiapane spent his rookie season adjusting to the increased pace and physicality of the OHL. He would put up 51 points in a full 68-game season for Barrie, including another 7 in 11 playoff games en route to an impressive rookie campaign.

Mangiapane would go on to finish third in OHL Rookie of the Year voting, finishing behind 2015 draft-eligible’s Mitch Marner and Travis Konecny. After going undrafted, he was invited to the Arizona Coyotes‘ prospect development camp this summer in preparation for his sophomore season.

This season, signs of a slump were left behind as Mangiapane has been one of the leading scorers for a strong Barrie Colts squad. The Colts have employed a top line of 2014 NHL Draft picks Brendan Lemieux (BUF), Kevin Labanc (SJS) along with the recently signed free agent, Joseph Blandisi (NJD). Mangiapane has seen limited minutes at even strength with that trio, so his production on special teams and away from that group has been all the more impressive.

Heading down the stretch, the Colts are hoping that Mangiapane continues to play his unmistakably adventurous game while putting them in the win column. NHL Central Scouting ranked him #147 among North American skaters, so potentially this off the radar forward might be gaining some recognition in the hockey community. His upward trend combined with his determination to succeed should see him selected as a second chance candidate in the upcoming NHL Draft.

Brenden Miller – North Bay Battalion
Defenseman, 6’1”, 200 lbs., Orangeville, ON

Often times NHL scouts will discuss what stood out to them when discussing a particular player. However, sometimes it’s the little things that no one talks about or notices that makes a defenseman like Brenden Miller that much more appreciated. Miller, an overage player, has spent his entire career with the North Bay Battalion organization. His consistency and longevity can be attributed to his stalwart defensive play and evolving offensive game. He started to realize those offensive capabilities during the playoffs last season, where he tallied three goals and 17 assists in 21 games.

Miller recently moved into third all-time in scoring by a Battalion defenseman, showing that he could do more on the offensive side of the game. One of the main components that has catapulted him into the draft and free agent discussion is his ability to inject emotion into his game. Often times, Miller has taken control of a situation for the benefit of his team, whether that be quarterbacking the power play, shutting down an odd man rush, or defending a teammate. Miller possesses an astute ability to manage the game, and has truly taken a step forward each season in the OHL.

After having gone undrafted twice now, it’s unlikely that Miller will hear his name called during this summer’s draft. However, if he continues to provide those small intangibles consistently, there’s going to be an opportunity for him to carve a role in professional hockey.

Jordan Papirny – Brandon Wheat Kings
Goaltender, 6’1”, 170 lbs., Edmonton, AB

There have been only a handful of goaltenders drafted in the first round of the WHL Bantam Draft, and one of that lot, Jordan Papirny, is starting to put the puzzle together. After Brandon drafted him, Papirny only received a cup of coffee in the WHL in 2012-13 and was an untested commodity heading into the 2013-14 season. But Papirny received all the shots he could handle behind a relatively young team in his first full WHL season. He would go on to post a 3.28 goals-against average with a .900 save percentage in the regular season. He was downright heroic in the playoffs, posting a total of 196 saves over a four-game stretch against the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Heading into this season, Papirny was invited to the Montreal Canadiens rookie camp and came back an energized and motivated young man. Papirny’s confidence started to pay dividends this season as he is starting to return the investment that the Wheat Kings made in him. He was nominated for the CHL Goaltender of the Week just before the holidays, and currently leads the WHL in wins. The phrase “compete level” gets thrown around quite a bit in scouting circles, but Papirny never gives up on a play and constantly attempts to do whatever it takes to make a save.

Last year’s crop of goaltenders was a strong one, so there may be a chance that he gets drafted this summer in his second time through the process. Papirny possesses the pedigree, now it’s up to him to take the next step.

Jacob Sweeney – Moncton Wildcats
Defenseman, 6’4”, 215 lbs., Quebec, QC

When you are in the same conversation as proven defenseman such as Keith Yandle, Andrew MacDonald, Brandon Gormley, David Savard, and Mark Barbiero, there’s something to be said for your pro potential. Like all of those players before him, Jacob Sweeney is the latest Moncton Wildcats’ defenseman trying to take the next step.

Sweeney’s biggest detractors would point to his lack of offensive ability, awkward range of motion and lack of fluidity. One thing you can say, however, is that Sweeney is slowly but surely starting to develop more of a complete game after being overlooked at last years NHL Draft After his first full QMJHL season, where he played behind a number of veterans with little special teams time, he was given the reigns this year and has been playing in all situations as the Wildcats’ #1 defenseman. He has been durable for Moncton throughout his career, and has already surpassed his career point totals in this one season alone. To that point, he was added to the Subway Super Series in November which recognized him as one of the top defensemen in the league.

There may have been some mutual curiosity from NHL scouts and Sweeney himself, with all parties questioning whether or not he could develop into the type of player a first round designation generally requires. With NHL teams placing an emphasis on size and skating at recent drafts, you’d have to think that Sweeney’s raw tools will be desirable this summer.

*At the time this article was submitted, Nikita Jevpalovs was an unsigned player. Jevpalovs signed a contract with the San Jose Sharks today, however, but it was decided to leave him in this article.

Follow Dave Hahn on Twitter via @DHahnHockey