Each year, the NHL Draft provides a fast-track opportunity for over 200 players to be drafted and realize their childhood dreams. For others, the draft comes and goes and another year of uncertainty faces prospects who do not hear their names called.
Over the last five years, over fifteen percent of players drafted had to sit through the agony of going undrafted at least one time before hearing their names called by an NHL club. But, after a hopeful year of hard work and determination, an interesting phenomenon has developed: the draft re-entry candidate. Regardless of the reasoning for not being selected, there is always a chance to be taken their second or third time through the process.
Just last season, a number of players turned the draft snub into a success story at least one year removed from their true draft year. The Arizona Coyotes selected Conor Garland, who just won his second consecutive QMJHL scoring title. Russian defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov turned a solid WJC tournament into a sixth round draft selection with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Just seven picks later, the Calgary Flames took Barrie Colts forward Andrew Mangiapane, who posted his second consecutive 100-point season.
Regardless of the route taken, the elusive NHL contract can be earned in a number of ways. With that in mind, here is a look at the top re-entry candidates for the 2016 NHL Draft.
Brayden Burke, Center/Left Wing, Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
5’10”, 163 pounds, Edmonton, AB
Going back to last season, Brayden Burke was stuck behind a number of talented forwards on the Red Deer Rebels roster and was traded to Lethbridge after a month of sitting in the press box during games. Originally viewed as a rough move, the trade inevitably worked out for Burke, as he saw his ice time and opportunities increase exponentially. He scored eight times and assisted on 26 others, but it wasn’t enough to prove he was worthy of a draft pick.
Then, the 2015-16 season afforded Burke with linemates he had chemistry with and all the ice time he could handle, and he turned it into one of the most impressive breakout seasons in recent memory. Burke joined the 100-point club along with just five other players, finishing the regular season with 27 goals and a WHL-leading 82 assists. Burke was a major catalyst to the Hurricanes 28.5% conversion rate with the man advantage, the best in the WHL.
Casey Fitzgerald, Defenseman, Boston College (Hockey East)
5’11”, 185 pounds, North Reading, MA
Once again ranked by NHL Central Scouting, Casey Fitzgerald should be a lock to be drafted this time around. Hailing from an impressive family bloodline including his father, Tom, a veteran of over 1,000 games in the NHL, his brother Ryan, a Boston Bruins draft pick, as well as his cousins Jimmy and Kevin Hayes and Keith and Matthew Tkachuk. Considering his family roots, it is no surprise that Fitzgerald has blossomed into an impressive defender.
After graduating from the U.S. NTDP program, Fitzgerald’s freshman season with Boston College was nothing short of draft-worthy. He posted 27 points in 39 games, good for second among freshman defensemen in all of college hockey. Despite being undersized, he doesn’t shy away from contact and his high motor helps move the puck in transition. Fitzgerald’s skating stride is already NHL-ready, and with his college commitment, an NHL team can afford to draft him and allow him plenty of time to develop other facets of his game.
Jeremy Helvig, Goaltender, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
6’4”, 202 pounds, Markham, ON
What a difference a year can make. Just last season, Jeremy Helvig was dead last in all OHL major statistical goaltending categories among netminders who appeared in at least 10 games. This season was a revelation for Helvig, who posted a sparkling 19-3-0-1 record with a 2.13 goals-against average, .929 save percentage, and two shutouts. As a result, he was named as the Eastern Conference’s Most Improved Player in the 2016 OHL Coaches Poll.
Helvig added extra height and weight over the last year, and truly filled out his frame. He has the size that NHL teams covet in the crease, and really looked the part this season with his improved speed and agility. He really came on late in the season, eventually taking ice time away from former OHL Goalie of the Year Lucas Peressini. Helvig has all the tools to become a capable NHL-level goaltender, but his road will be a long one and he will have to prove that this season isn’t a fluke.
Loik Leveille, Defenseman, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
6’0”, 223 pounds, St-Jerome, QC
Loik Leveille appeared to be a sure-fire candidate to be drafted in 2015, but questions on whether or not his offensive outburst last season were for real held him back. Once selected fifth overall in the 2012 QMJHL Entry Draft, he has continued to improve in a number of areas. One consistent part of Leveille’s game is his physicality, as his stocky frame has proven to be a sturdy basis for him to launch thunderous hits.
After a 54-point regular season in 2014-15, Leveille proved that his offensive game was for real by scoring 16 times and assisting on 31 others this season. He played big minutes for Cape Breton, and improved on both sides of the puck. Most notable in his willingness to block shots, his consistent efforts at breaking up plays has been invaluable to the Screaming Eagles and could be the trait that gets him on NHL radars.
Brett McKenzie, Center/Left Wing, North Bay Battalion (OHL)
6’2”, 190 pounds, Vars, ON
As a former first-round pick of the Battalion, Head Coach Stan Butler got the most out of Brett McKenzie this season. After a pedestrian 32-point campaign last season, he broke out in a big way in 2015-16 with career highs in goals (26) and assists (27). His role increased this year, but most notable was his penalty killing efforts. As an avid shot blocker and an important role player within North Bay’s stingy defensive system, McKenzie was entrusted with significant ice time, often including the last minute of the game.
His goal totals don’t jump off the page, until you see that he scored just twice with the man advantage. McKenzie could easily be the next Battalion in line following Nick Paul, Barclay Goodrow, and most recently Mike Amadio to burst onto the scene later than their development projected.
Nathan Noel, Center, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
6’0”, 180 pounds, St. John’s, NL
It was downright perplexing when Nathan Noel went undrafted last year. He was the highest ranked player by NHL Central Scouting not to hear his name called at 54th overall. He was a high-end puck possession player last season, using his body to shield the puck while playing a deliberate, slowed-down style of hockey. Perhaps playing on a team in the middle of a rebuild hurt him, but some of his ice time at center was taken away by Joseph Veleno, the first Quebec native granted Exceptional Player Status by Hockey Canada.
Noel maintained his scoring pace for Saint John with 57 points in 61 regular season games and guided the team through a surprisingly deep playoff run past Acadie-Bathurst and Cape Breton. He finished the playoffs with three goals and 10 assists, including a clutch two-goal performance in a deciding Game 7 against Cape Breton where he showed NHL scouts he can be relied upon in multiple situations.
Dante Salituro, Center, Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
5’9”, 174 pounds, Willowdale, ON
While it wasn’t particularly surprising that Dante Salituro went undrafted last season, it would be a mild shock to see him go undrafted yet again this year. Like last season, Salituro once again led the 67’s in scoring, but did so without having the benefit of Travis Konecny by his side. Konecny was dealt near the trade deadline to the Sarnia Sting, and the keys to the offense were handed to Salituro, and he responded by posting career highs in goals (38), assists (45), points (83), and plus/minus rating (+5).
He is a fantastic game-breaker, and almost earned a contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets with a strong training camp. Able to make a play when it looks like he has been closed off, the undersized Salituro checks off a number of plus categories including his shot release, elusiveness, and ability to track the game away from the puck.
2016: NDP1 | NDP2 | NDP3 | NDP4 | NDP5 | NDP6
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