BCHL 2004 Entry Draft preview

By Jay Thompson





The first round of the NHL Entry Draft has been a tough nut to crack for<br />the British Columbia Hockey League

The first round of the NHL
Entry Draft has been a tough nut to crack for the British Columbia Hockey
League. In the last decade, only four graduates of the BCHL (Mike Brown, Scott
Gomez, Steve McCarthy, and Shaone Morrisonn) have been selected in the first
round. The highest BCHLer ever taken was Mel Bridgman, selected No. 1 overall
by the Philadelphia Flyers way back in 1975, but he was an exception. Recently
BCHLers have had to prove themselves elsewhere to be drafted early. Since 1990, no player has been drafted
directly out of the BCHL in the first round.

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Salmon Arm Silverbacks
centerman Travis Zajac could change
all that. The Central Scouting Service’s final rankings had Zajac sitting 15th
overall amongst 2004 draft eligible North American skaters. Standing at 6’2”,
200 pounds, Zajac led his team in the 2003-04 regular season with 43 goals and
112 points in 59 games. Combining a great shot, slick puckhandling, smart
decision making, swift skating, and the exceptional knack of knowing where to
be on the ice at any given time, Zajac will no doubt be given a long look by
scouts.

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Zajac’s teammate and
linemate Kris Chucko was ranked 29th
of North American skaters by the CSS this year, and is a good bet to be
selected in either the second or third rounds. At 6’2”, 190 pounds, Chucko is a
true power forward with a heck of a mean streak. Driving to the net on nearly
every offensive foray, Chucko managed to put up 32 goals and 87 points in 53
games through the 2003-04 season on Zajac’s wing. As a testament to his surly
attitude on the ice, Chucko racked up 161 penalty minutes last season.

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Two young hopefuls from the
2004 BCHL Championship Nanaimo Clippers are hoping to hear their name selected
in Carolina later this month are forwards Raymond
Sawada
, ranked 33rd and Jordan Foote, ranked 69th. The 6’2”,
195-pound Sawada scored 20 goals and 52 points in his rookie season in the BCHL
of 54 games. A tenacious player on the ice, Sawada is a strong hitter with good
offensive qualities that could translate well to a second or third line in the
professional ranks someday. His teammate, Jordan Foote, is an exceptionally
gifted skater who uses his 6’4”, 195-pound frame well on the forecheck,
creating turnovers and in general, making the lives of the opposition
defensemen a living hell. While not quite as offensively gifted as Sawada,
Foote managed a respectable 23 goals and 49 points in 58 games in 2003-04 for
the Clippers. Both Sawada and Foote were key players in Nanaimo’s playoff run,
particularly Sawada who impressed on the scoresheet nearly every night.

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Yet another player from the
Salmon Arm Silverbacks made the CSS North American draft eligible skaters list.
Craig Switzer was ranked the 136th
North American on their list, after opting out of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Named
the best defenseman of the BCHL Interior Conference, the 6’1”, 195-pound
Switzer is a very skilled defenseman with the puck, a trait he consistently
showed all throughout the season, scoring 14 goals and 54 points in only 57
games for the Silverbacks. Projected to be a future power play quarterback in
the professional ranks, Switzer is a good bet to be selected between the fourth
and sixth rounds.

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From the Coquitlam Express
of the Mainland Division, 19-year-old Brandon
Yip
was ranked 138th amongst North American skaters. Scoring 31 goals and
69 points in 56 games for the Express throughout the 2003-04 regular season,
Yip became known as one of the premier young snipers in the BCHL. A commitment
to his conditioning will be required, as while he is not short at 6’1”, Yip is
very slight at only 171 pounds if he wishes to go pro. Still, his offensive
skills alone could be enough for a team to draft him between the fifth and
seventh rounds.

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Further down the CSS list,
ranked the 157th best North American, lies Vernon Viper offensive star Mike Santorelli. At 6’0” 195 pounds,
Santorelli is not the tallest man on the rink, but he is often the most
skilled. A wizard with the puck, he is dangerous every time he touches the
puck. An equal opportunity offensive player, Santorelli snapped home 43 goals
and collected 53 assists for 96 points in only 60 games in the 2003-04 season,
leading the Vipers on the scoresheet by a large margin. Perhaps overlooked
slightly for his size so far, Santorelli nevertheless will likely be selected
in the later end of the draft, around the seventh to ninth round.

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Ranked 175th on the CSS list
is Andrew Lord, teammate of
Santorelli’s. The Vancouver B.C. native stands at 6’3”, 190 pounds, and uses
his size well by making a nuisance of himself to the opposition by hitting
everything that moves and driving to the net looking for rebounds. Sixteen
goals and 45 points in 56 games placed Lord fourth on his team in points
through the 2003-04 season, and became a bit of a fan favorite for his physical
play. Hopefully for Lord, it will be enough to be drafted by the ninth round.

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Defenseman from the
legendary Trail Smoke Eaters, Travis
Gawryletz
, is up next at 177th amongst North American skaters. The 6’2”,
195-pound defenseman uses his size well, and plays a sound positional game. A
very smooth skater and a tremendously hard shot makes you wonder why CSS didn’t
rank him higher. Even still, there is little doubt one NHL team out there will
take notice enough to select him before the ninth round is out.

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Not to be outdone, South
Surrey has two draft eligible candidates ranked as well. Forward Matt Robinson and rookie defenseman Tyler Eckford. Robinson, ranked 189th,
is an adept sniper with a great, heavy wrist shot, as witnessed by his 33 goals
and 63 points in 60 games for his final season with the Eagles. While not the
biggest player at 6’1” and 180 pounds, he uses his size effectively, dishing
out great hits on the forecheck. After the season, Robinson was named as the
‘future considerations’ in a deal the South Surrey Eagles made before the
playoffs started, so now Robinson is a member of the Alberni Valley
Bulldogs. His player journals from this
season can be read in Hockey’s Future’s 2004 Draft Center.

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Eckford, standing 6’1” and
200 pounds, managed an impressive 7 goals and 37 points through 58 games in his
BCHL rookie season. Good use of his size in his own end along with impressive
offensive skills showcased all season long, Eckford was rewarded with being
ranked by the CSS at 199th of North American skaters. Both players are hopefuls
to be drafted between the seventh and ninth rounds.

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Tough guy Chris Frank of the Cowichan Valley
Capitals is ranked 219th amongst North American Skaters. Six-feet and 213
pounds is usually big for most players, but consider Frank pays his meals with
his fists and you can understand why he is probably a longshot to be drafted at
all. Still, 277 penalty minutes in only 55 games through the 2003-04 season is
quite a statement. Frank could still opt out and wait until 2005, but if he
doesn’t, he still is a potential 2004 late round pick.

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Last, but certainly not the
least amongst the CSS ranked skaters, is Langley left winger Andrew Sarauer. An absolute giant on
the ice at 6’5”, 190 pounds, Sarauer opted out of the 2003 draft in hopes that
his stock would rise for 2004. It didn’t really, as CSS ranked him 227th of 231
North American skaters. For his size, Sarauer can really skate, but he tends to
give the puck up quite a bit, and his offensive skills are very, very raw. He’s
a definite longshot, but a potential project that could pay off down the road.

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The lone goaltender ranked
by CSS on the North American Goaltenders list is No. 30 of 30, is Mark Dekanich of the Coquitlam.
Dekanich at 6’1”, 185 pounds plays the angles well and looks bigger than he
actually is. A respectable .909 save percentage and a 3.24 goals against
average through 2003-04 could very well draw notice from NHL scouts and
managers come draft day.

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All in all, CSS listed 14
BCHL players on their list of North Americans. The 2003 draft class had 10 BCHL
players selected, so the 2004 draft could potentially out-do it. In fact, up to
four players could very well be selected before No. 79 overall, which was where
the Montreal Canadiens drafted Ryan O’Byrne, the first BCHL’er taken in the
2003 NHL Entry Draft.

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