In every sport, there is one day that is both filled with anticipation and dread – Draft Day. This is the day that players hope that the major league teams will feel that they are good enough to join their organization.
For the NHL, the 1999 Entry Draft was held in the FleetCenter, home of the Boston Bruins. Otters Tim Connolly, Sean Dixon, Ryan Lee, Jason Baird and J.F. Perras were hoping that their names would be called at the Draft. There was no question that Connolly would be drafted, as he was slated to go high in the First Round. After that though, it was anybody’s guess when and where in the Draft the other Otters would go.
From Waterloo, Ontario, Sean Dixon is a second year defenseman for the Otters. While not an offensive defenseman, he has been a steady player on the blueline. In the two years with Erie, Sean has only scored 2 goals and 20 assists in 113 games. In spite of his lack of scoring, Sean’s play has been noticed. Twice he has played for the Ontario Under-17 Team at the 1997 and 1998 International Hockey Championships, held during the Christmas holidays in Kitchener, Ontario, where Team Ontario won gold medals. Dixon has also excelled off the ice, winning the 1997-98 Otters Scholastic Player of the Year, sharing it with fellow draftee, Tim Connolly.
Draft Day was a pretty exciting day for Sean, as it did live up to expectations. “Just to sit in the stands and stare down at all the NHL logos and personnel, and to know that you are a part of it, is a pretty amazing feeling in itself,” stated Dixon.
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Detroit’s scouting staff waited more than five hours at their draft table watching as other teams selected their future players. Having traded their previous picks throughout the 1998-1999 season , Detroit broke ( in fact smashed ) an NHL draft record by not making a selection until the 120th overall pick. Rumors had the Wings attempting to get back into the first round but nothing ever came of those. Clubs knew the talent level in this draft was high and with the salary structure way out off kilter, other teams were not listening to many offers.
In the end the Red Wings stated that they wanted to find one NHL player in this draft if possible. Judging by earlier drafts, this was an imposing task to say the least. Looking back at drafts as early as 1983, players taken 120th overall or later had less than 10% chance of ever playing in the NHL as a regular. In fact, only about 8 players a year on average ever make it more than a year or two if taken after the 120th pick. For Detroit to find one of these “diamonds in the ruff “, the scouting staff had better done their homework.
Traditionally, the Detroit Red Wings draft what they consider to be safer players. They look for skaters that have great character and maybe less upside. The 1999 draft was a bit different however. Jim Nill, Detroit’s head scout said, “We went for the home run…. we were looking for the next Pavol Demitra.”
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The Rangers are a team known more for using their “big bucks” rather then their “brain trust”, but times seemed to have changed at the 1999 NHL draft as the Rangers decided they were going to try and swing for the fences. After acquiring Pavel Brendl with the fourth selection many people thought the Rangers were done, but they were just warming up. After completing the deal with Calgary GM AL Coates the night before, the Rangers nabbed a kid whom they had been watching since early November, Moose Jaw Warriors forward Jamie Lundmark. Though the price was heavy the Rangers might just be able to look back and say they got the steal of the draft for the second year in a row.
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Imagine yourself back on that little league field with your new team. Or on the ice for the first time with your midget team. The coach’s are watching, instructing, teaching. Your heart has been pounding from the moment you woke up that morning, anticipating the excitement, the competition that awaits you. The unknown: Will you make the grade?
Now imagine yourself going halfway around the world possibly to a country where you speak precious little of their native language. You are accustomed to being a “big fish” and you are now thrust into the “big pond” with other big fish. It is your first touch with an NHL franchise, YOUR NHL franchise, and you are wondering: Will I make the grade?
The Toronto Maple Leafs entrust a big part of their future to a very capable man, Chris MacDonald. “My role is a little difficult to define”, says the very personable man, who is also Queens University’ hockey coach. “I can best explain it as coordinating the Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospects’ adjustment to the NHL. Not only on the hockey level, but acclimating them to the city, to the organization, to each other.” He works hand-in-hand with Leafs’ assistant GM Anders Hedberg, creating a “comfort zone” to players who largely represent the future of the franchise.
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Dallas Stars prospect Jeff McKercher played with the Peterbourgh Petes of the OHL last season. During that time he had one goal, seven assists, and 22 PIMs in 65 regular season games. He also sported an impressive plus/minus rating of +32 during this same time period.
Although known for these examples of steady play and solid defense, McKercher is little known.
Please briefly describe your style of play for the readers not already familiar with you.
“I am a defensive defenseman who reads the ice well. I like to make the quick, first pass out of the defensive zone. I take pride in my work in penalty-killing situations.”
What do you feel that you could add to the Dallas defensive ranks in the future?
“I will strive to be a defensive defenseman with the Stars and hope that I will be a regular on the penalty-kill. I try to pattern myself after the play of Craig Ludwig.”
Do you see yourself ever becoming more of an offensive-minded player in the future?
“I would like to think that I might become a little bit more offensive to complement my defensive style. My skating is strong so hopefully with experience this part of my game will develop. I usually have been paired with an offensive defenseman and my job has been to stay back and hold the fort.”
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The Soo Greyhounds 1998-99 season was a very successful one. They won 10 straight games and improved their point total from 1997-98 by 23 points. The 1999-2000 season looks to be a good one as the Greyhounds have 16 returning players. At the draft the Greyhounds also added 19-year-old left-winger Brent Theobald. He was acquired in a trade with the Missisauga IceDogs at the draft.
The Greyhounds are in a good position because most of the teams in the division are losing a lot of players. The Plymouth Whalers for example are possibly losing the likes of Harold Druken, Adam Colagiacomo, Paul Mara and Robert Holsinger.
In goal the Greyhounds are in very good shape because Jake McCracken is definitely coming back and Jason Flick may be back as one of the Greyhounds three overages. McCracken will be looking to bounce back from an off-year where he didn’t play his best hockey. Flick, if he does come back will be looking to repeat his tremendous performance from last season. Remember though, it’s not a guarantee that he is coming back.
The defensemen on last season’s club were pretty good. The problem is two of last year’s defensemen (Dan Passero and Rob Mulick) are candidates for the three overage spots on this year’s team. However, they did have five other strong defensemen.
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One great thing about watching Junior Major hockey is seeing the future stars of hockey. Ever since he was drafted by the Erie Otters in 1997, forward Tim Connolly was touted as a high draft choice in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft and being a future star of the NHL.
On June 26th at the FleetCenter in Boston, the first part of the above statement came true. The New York Islanders, who had the 5th selection overall, selected Connolly. While it is quite an achievement for a player to be selected in the first round, Tim had two other noticeable achievements with his selection by the Islanders. Tim was the first player selected from the CHL, and the OHL, and was the first North American born player selected in the draft. A native of Baldwinsville, NY, Connolly stated that, “It is a great honor to be the first North American player selected in the draft”.
Connolly has been a standout player for the Otters the past two years. Tim has dazzled Erie fans, OHL fans and OHL opponents with his superb skating and puck-handling skills. During the 97-98 year with Erie, where he won the Otters Rookie of the Year, Tim scored 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points. During the 98-99 season, Connolly scored 34 goals and 34 assists for 68, in spite of playing 13 fewer games. In a February game against the Windsor Spitfires, Connolly suffered a broken leg, which ended his play for the remainder of the 98-99 season. In spite of this injury, Connolly still finished as the leading scorer for the Otters.
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#18 – Senior, Captain
University of Maine Black Bears
5′ – 7″, 170 lbs
North Vancouver, British Columbia
Breakdown: An exciting and explosive playmaker that has anchored UMaine’s top line for three seasons. Recorded a hat trick in JC Penney Tournament final. Scored a pair of goals in early-season win over nationally ranked New Hampshire. Named Most Valuable Player of both tournaments that UMaine has played in (1998 JC Penney Hockey Classic and 1998 Governors Cup Tournament). Named Hockey East Player of Week (November 30). First Hockey East player to ever receive the Len Ceglarski Sportsmanship Award twice. Third in the Nation in total points. Ranks eighth in the nation in points per game and seventh in assists per game. Leads UMaine with 13 multi-point games. Named games First Star four times this year. What is said about Steve Kariya? He has tremendous skill. Hes a game-breaker who keeps the other team back on their heels. If Steve Kariya isnt the best player in the league, he is one of the top two (Quote From University of Maine) What Can We Expect? Steve is a great player. Although he is not to be confused with his brother, sensation and NHL megastar, Paul Kariya, his style of hockey is similiar. He will be a key part in the Canucks organization and will likely be playing as soon as next year.
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Most Islander fans cant even pronounce most of the Islanders late round picks this yera yet alone know much about their games. Team management is thrilled with their draft believing that they stole a few very good players and may have gotten some keepers that fell through the cracks. One of these players is right winger Juraj Kulnik. “Not many times can you get a guy this skilled in the fourth round,” said Isles scout Mario Saraceno. “He’s a goal-scorer and that’s how he will make it in the NHL.” Kolnik, who is Slovakian, notched 42 goals and 84 points in 62 games with the Rimouski Oceanic. The Slovakian sniper’s hot hand didn’t stop there as he netted nine more tallies in 11 playoff games. Not a bad rookie year. And according to Saraceno, Kolnik has his sights set on 60 next year. “He has tremendous hands,” said Saraceno. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but his ability to get open and avoid being checked makes up for that.” The Slovakian is fluent in English and should have no problem fitting in with the Islander locker room in the near future as countrymen Zdeno Chara and 1999 first-rounders Branislav Mezei and Kristian Kudroc will be there. Besides his goal-scoring talent, there’s a lot to like about the 5-11, 182-pound Kolnik, according to Saraceno. “He’s a hard worker and plays in traffic,” he said. “He kills penalties and has a pretty good skating stride. There’s of course some room for improvement in his overall game. The desire is there, however, and I think we got a keeper that fell through the cracks.”
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The Mississauga Ice Dogs innaugural season was tough one, to say the least. They finished last in the OHL with a record of 4W-61L-3T. The Ice Dogs were also dead last in goals for (145) and lead the league in goals against (426). If there was any silver lining to last season’s poor showing, it was that it enabled them to select first overall at this year’s OHL Entry Draft. This pick landed the Ice Dogs arguably the best junior hockey prospect since Eric Lindros, in the form of Jason Spezza. Under the tutelage of coach Jim Hulton, who returns for another season, look for the Ice Dogs to make some improvement over last year. Of course, when you’re at the bottom, the only way to go is up.
1999-2000 SEASON PREVIEW
The Ice Dogs will be looking to junior phenom Jason Spezza to help with their offensive attack. Last season as an underager with the Brampton Battalion, Spezza had 18 goals and 44 assists in 58 games. Also expected to improve on last season’s totals is centre Lou Dickenson. The Ice Dogs 1st OHL Draft pick in 1998, 2nd overall, had a total of 19 goals and 27 assists in 62 games in 1998-1999. Overage goal production should come from captain Scott Page, who is expected to return this season. He lead the Ice Dogs scoring last year with 20 goals and 30 assists in 66 games. Other key offensive contributors are Fraser Clair (6-12-59games, Chad Wiseman (11-25-64games), and Sebastien Savage (10-15-57games).
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