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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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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#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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In English, the name Örnsköldsvik means “Eagle Shield’s Bay.” To hockey fans, it means something else; the home of MoDo Hockey’s now-legendary junior development program. To date, MoDo Hockey has had 28 of their players selected in the NHL Entry Draft. Among Swedish clubs, only Färjestad BK (29) has had more.
The MoDo draft legacy began in 1976, when the NHL draft did not draw nearly as much attention as it does today, especially not in Europe. While European players in the NHL were still relatively few in number, however, the trend was starting to grow by 1976. Following the success of Börje Salming (and to a lesser extent, Inge Hammarström), NHL teams had begun to look more seriously to Sweden as a talent source for the league. This was a radical departure from the days when even the weakest NHL teams gave no consideration to trying to sign top Swedish stars like Sven “Tumba” Johansson and Leif “Honken” Holmqvist. The NHL success of Salming and the strength of the Soviet hockey machine forced NHL teams to sit up and take notice. There were 5 Swedes chosen in the 1976 NHL draft, including Björn Johansson, who became the first European to be selected in the first round of the NHL draft. 1976 was also the year that MoDo had their first player chosen, when Thomas Gradin became the third pick (45th overall) of the Vancouver Canucks. Gradin went on to become a scoring star for Vancouver, making a lot of NHL teams kick themselves for having been beaten to the punch by the Canucks. Today, Gradin heads the Canucks European scouting department.
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The top three picks by the Carolina Hurricanes in last months NHL Entry draft were surprised, and not always for the best. David Tanabe, Brett Lysak, and Brad Fast were taken in the first, second, and third rounds, respectively.
Carolina made Tanabe their first pick, 16th overall. The pressing need for an offensive defenseman surpassed the available players ranked higher. The Hurricanes had the worst powerplay in the NHL during the 1998-1999 season. The 11 defensemen who skated for the Canes last season combined for 15 goals in 82 regular season games. Of those 15 goals, only three came on the power play. Tanabe, on the other hand, scored ten goals in 35 games. Three of his goals won games and one came on the powerplay. This came in his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, where he was the third highest scorer. He has stated that his development is up to the Hurricanes organization and the Minneapolis native will either return to college or sign a contract and go into the Canes system. The combination of his great skating, hard shot, and superior passing caused Carolina to pick him as the third defenseman taken in the draft, when in fact, he was ranked eighth in that category.
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Below I’ve written some words about a few Swedish prospects of very shifting talent and quality. I’ve chose five players; one center, two wingers and two defenders all located or born in the northern part of Sweden. The selection of the players is more or less random, but I wanted to get as many different types of players as possible represented.
JOHN WIKSTRÖM, 6’5″, 205 lbs, D, 300179, Luleå – 129th 1997, Detroit
HF Comments: John finished the past season in Mörrum (SWE 1st division) after a less successful attempt to play in North America. The season before, he tried out in Piteå HC, also 1st division, but didn’t make it so he was sent back to Luleå juniors. Already at the age of 17, he made his first appearance on the Luleå bench in the Elite League, but it seemed like he never got a chance to step out on the ice. Maybe if he would have, Detroit would have never drafted him, because Wikström has never made it in a senior team. Among juniors, such a big player may appear as dominating, but despite of his size, he is not a very physical player and not very trustable on his own blueline, concerning passing and quick change of play. I don’t know where John will play next season, but I do know that it is highly unlikely that he’ll ever make it to Detroit. Probably not even to the Swedish Elite League. Maybe he’ll be a solid defender in the Swedish 1st division one day.
PIERRE HEDIN, 6’3″, 200 lbs, D, 190278, MoDo – 239th 1999, Toronto
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In the 6th round of this year’s entry draft, the AIK defender Jan Sandström was picked by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. If 21-year-old Sandström makes it to the NHL, he will also be the 6th player from a small town in northern Sweden called Piteå to join the league.
Piteå is a small town located in northern Sweden. The city with it’s suburbs has about 25 000 inhabitants and the whole county about 40 000. There is no logical explanation to why this particular town should be such a good place for hockey players to develop, but apparently, it is. The city only has two indoor rinks. Pitea’s arena only has room for 1920 spectators and is ready to be torn down. Piteå Hockey has also suffered a lot because of their economy in the past years, but despite of all this, the town seems to develop talented hockey players in a very rare and interesting way.
The first Piteå player to play in the NHL was the Islander defenseman Stefan Persson. During his NHL career (1977-86), he was fortunate to win three Stanley Cups with the Islanders. Persson played 622 NHL regular season games, and scored 369 points and 574 PIM. In a recent voting among journalists he was nominated to be the 6th best Swedish defenseman ever to play the game of hockey.
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I know it seems a bit early to be looking ahead to the 1999-2000 OHL season, but the way I see it, it’s never too early to look ahead to next season. The 1998-99 season was a very exciting one for the OHL. The Ottawa 67’s won the Memorial Cup and put together a 14-game winning streak, while the Barrie Colts went undefeated in 31 straight home games.
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When Nashville Predators conditioning camp opens this week, all eyes will be on one particular player. David Legwand. Legwand is expected to make a splash in training camp and make the big jump to the next level from the OHL.
Legwand’s numbers signifcantly dropped in 98-99 after an MVP rookie season with the Plymouth Whalers. Some nights he was totally invisible on the ice. He looked more Sergei Fedorov or Alexander Mogilny skating the ice and not knowing what to do with the great skills he possesses unlike the Mike Modano he is usually compared to. Many point to his work on two way play to improve defensively as a reason his numbers dropped. His numbers were still solid, but for Legwand, a major disappointment. Others point to a case of mono he contracted during Predators training camp as a reason for the drop off and he was struggling to recover from the illness. His performance at the World Championship competitions also caused the critics to stand up and rise. He did not stir anything up for Team USA causing some to believe if he is the real deal.
When Legwand’s Whalers got bounced from the OHL playoffs, the Preds immediately signed him, in order to get Legwand into an NHL game. Legwand’s dream had come true. In the final game of the season against New Jersey, he made his first appearance at the Nashville Arena. The Preds were happy with his performance. He didnt make any serious mistakes and took it easy but General Manager David Poile and Head Coach Barry Trotz knew immediately something was missing from Legwand’s game. Size.
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