In the fall of 2002, when defenseman Danny Richmond entered the University of Michigan as an 18-year-old freshman, he was already a highly touted prospect. The season before he had played Junior A hockey with the Chicago Steel, was the USHL rookie of the year, and had led the junior league in scoring amongst defensemen (9 goals and 45 assists in 56 games).
It didn’t take long for Richmond to make an impression as a college player as well. In the first 10 games of the 2003-04 season he scored 1 goal and had 6 assists. On the strength of this performance the preliminary rankings from NHL’s Central Scouting placed him at the seventh spot amongst college skaters eligible for the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
When Central Scouting released its mid-term rankings, in January 2003, Richmond was ranked 48th amongst North American skaters. Then, in its final rankings, Central Scouting moved Richmond up to the 41st spot for North American skaters. This upgrade in his ranking reflected the fact that Richmond finished the 2002-03 season with 3 goals and 18 assists in 36 collegiate games.
At the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the Carolina Hurricanes selected Richmond much higher than the rankings had suggested would be the case (especially considering that goalies and Europeans were being selected along with the North American skaters). Carolina chose Richmond with the first pick in the second round – 31st overall.
After being drafted this high, Richmond decided to move from NCAA hockey to Major Junior. The idea was that the increased number of games in the OHL would allow him to focus upon and accelerate his development, thereby improving his chances of obtaining a roster spot with the Hurricanes. Less than a year latter, it appears that being on the OHL London Knights team has worked out as well or even better than expected.
London had drafted Richmond with their 15th round selection back in the 2002 OHL draft. At the time the Knights viewed the late round pick as something of a gamble because Richmond had already accepted a scholarship to play at the University of Michigan.
A year later London was pleasantly surprised when Richmond made his decision to leave college hockey for the OHL. But the Knights were soon taken aback when it appeared that Richmond might instead end up going directly to the NHL.
When Richmond attended training camp with the Hurricanes in August of 2003, he surprised a lot of people with his skating, intelligence, and puck handling abilities. He survived the cuts at camp and ended up playing in a few NHL exhibition games before he was released to join the London Knights.
The 2003-04 OHL season was already underway when Richmond arrived in London. After an initial adjustment to his new teammates and to major junior hockey, Richmond settled in and quickly became an integral part of the Knights’ success. Richmond was one of London’s top four defensemen, typically played every other shift, and was part of the first powerplay unit.
London finished the regular season ranked as the No. 1 team not only in the OHL but in the entire Canadian Hockey League. The Knights earned 110 points in 68 games – an OHL record.
Ten of the Knights had 35 or more points during the 2003-04 season. Most of these were forwards. Aside from Wideman (an over-ager and assistant captain), Richmond was the only defenseman amongst these top scorers.
Richmond contributed his 35 points from 13 goals and 22 assists during 59 regular season games. It is noteworthy that Richmond’s points would have been even higher had he not joined the team late (due to playing with the Hurricanes) as well as taken a temporary leave to play in the World Junior Hockey Championships, where he helped the U.S. team win the gold medal.
Richmond’s plus/minus during the 2003-04 regular season was a respectable +12. Richmond also played with reasonable toughness during the regular season. He had 92 PIM and was not adverse to dropping the gloves at times.
Now, in the OHL post-season, Richmond appears to have elevated his game to a new level. In the first round London swept the Windsor Spitfires. Richmond played in all four of the playoff games and contributed 4 goals and 3 assists. His 7 points were third highest on the team, behind Corey Perry (10 pts.) and Dylan Hunter (8 pts.). Even more impressive was the fact that Richmond was a +11 in those four games. This was the best plus/minus on the London team during the first round of the playoffs.
Once the 2004 playoffs are concluded, attention will naturally shift to the upcoming 2004-05 season. In a normal year, it could reasonably be expected that Carolina would sign a top prospect like Richmond to a contract. Richmond would then either earn a roster spot with the Hurricanes, or move to the minor pro affiliate for further development. However, with the uncertainty surrounding the CBA, it is not at all clear that there will be a 2004-05 NHL season.
Richmond appears capable of making the jump to the pro level for the 2004-05 season. However, an NHL work stoppage will likely leave him playing another season of junior hockey.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. If Richmond does play with London for the 2004-05 season, he will be the team’s top defenseman due to the graduation of Wideman as an over-ager. This would give Richmond the opportunity and experience of being the team’s number one go-to guy on defense, and it would also give him more time to put on some additional muscle.
As a 6’0” defenseman, Richmond will need to bulk up further in order to maximize his potential at the NHL level. He did put on 10 pounds of muscle (going from 175 to 185 lbs.) over the last year.
Regardless of where he plays next season, the future looks bright for Richmond as a hockey player. Carolina is obviously expecting big things from Richmond. He has the potential to become a player in the mold of New Jersey’s Scott Niedermayer. It seems likely that Richmond is destined to become one of the Hurricanes’ franchise players in the near future.