June 20, 2006
INCH's Pre-NHL Entry Draft Notes

Why would former Denver forward Connor James be featured prominently in INCH's notes for the 2006 NHL Entry Draft? You'll have to read the entire article to find out.

Gophers Going, Going, Gone: It’s possible, though not probable, that defenseman Erik Johnson and forward Phil Kessel – Minnesota Gopher teammates-to-be in 2006-07 – could be the first and second players chosen in this week’s draft. On only one other occasion have teammates gone 1-2 in the draft’s first round. That was in 1969, when Montreal had a special exemption to select the first two French-Canadian players. The Habs took Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif from the Montreal Junior Canadiens.

A First For A First: Johnson, the consensus pick to go to St. Louis with the first overall selection, would become the first defenseman with college hockey ties to be chosen No. 1. In fact, no college rearguard has gone higher than third overall – Michigan’s Jack Johnson achieved that distinction when he was nabbed by Carolina in last year’s draft.

The Bloomington, Minn., native wouldn’t be the first U.S.-born blueliner to become the first overall choice, however. Rhode Island product Bryan Berard was a member of the Ontario Hockey League’s Detroit Whalers when Ottawa tabbed him with the top pick in 1995.

Maize and Blue Streak: The University of Michigan’s streak of having a player taken in the draft’s first round is likely to reach six years in a row in 2006. Defensemen Mark Mitera, who's between his freshman and sophomore seasons, or Chris Summers, who’ll be a freshman for the Wolverines this fall, are both considered first-round prospects. Throw out the 2000 draft, and at least one player with ties to Red Berenson’s program has gone in the first round each year since 1998.

Should Michigan fail to see one of its players go in the first round this season, Minnesota will have the top active streak of years with a first-round selection. With Johnson and Kessel top-10 locks, the Gophers’ run of first-rounders should reach five years in a row.

Exponential Growth: In the five drafts that have occurred in this decade, there have been more than twice the number of first-round college picks (41) as there were in the entire decade of the ‘90s (18). Taking that statistic one step further, in the last three drafts, 24 collegians have been selected in the first round.

Front Office Space: Maybe more collegians (or players about to become collegians) are being chosen in the draft because the guys heading up the brain trusts of NHL teams are former collegians. The recent hirings of Peter Chiarelli (Boston), Ray Shero (Pittsburgh) and Neil Smith (New York Islanders) brings the number of ex-NCAA skaters who are now NHL general managers to 13. The complete list:

Anaheim – Brian Burke (Providence)
Atlanta – Don Waddell (Northern Michigan)
Boston – Peter Chiarelli (Harvard)
Dallas – Doug Armstrong (attended W. Michigan, didn't play hockey)
Florida – Mike Keenan (St. Lawrence)
Nashville – David Poile (Northeastern)
New Jersey – Lou Lamoriello (Providence)
New York Islanders – Neil Smith (Western Michigan)
Phoenix – Mike Barnett (St. Lawrence)
Pittsburgh – Ray Shero (St. Lawrence)
Toronto – John Ferguson (Providence)
Vancouver – Dave Nonis (Maine)
Washington – George McPhee (Bowling Green)

Betcha Can't Top This: It's too early to cast judgment on recent draft classes, but any team will be hard pressed to top the haul of college talent Calgary amassed in 1984. That year, the Flames:

  • Used the 38th overall pick to select forward Paul Ranheim, who followed a four-year stint at Wisconsin with a 14-year NHL career with five different teams – Calgary, Hartford, Carolina, Philadelphia and Phoenix.
  • Selected another Badger, defenseman Gary Suter, with the 180th overall pick. The Madison native scored 845 points in 17 NHL seasons with Calgary, Chicago and San Jose. He earned the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year in 1986 and was a member of the 1988-89 Flames squad that won the Stanley Cup in six games over Montreal.
  • Spent the 117th overall pick in that year's draft on right winger Brett Hull, who netted 84 goals in two seasons at Minnesota Duluth and scored 741 goals during his 20-year NHL career with Calgary, St. Louis, Dallas, Detroit and Phoenix. A two-time Stanley Cup winner, Hall was the Hart Memorial Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Trophy (voted on by the the league's players) recipient as league MVP in 1991, and also earned the 1990 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for gentlemanly play.

Better Late...: Everyone knows about the guys who go at or near the top of the draft, but what about those who are selected in the nether regions? Do they ever pan out?

A few do. For example, the lowest-drafted player with ties to the Division I ranks to appear in an NHL game is former University of Denver forward Connor James. James, who helped the Pioneers to the 2004 NCAA championship, was taken by Los Angeles with the 279th overall selection in the 2002 NHL Draft. He played in two games for the Kings this season.

Based on his recent success, the player who holds the distiction of being the lowest-drafted collegian has a decent shot on playing in the NHL someday. Ottawa used its final pick in the 2003 draft – the 291st overall selection – to grab goaltender Brian Elliott. At the time, Elliott had completed his final season of juniors with the Ontario Hockey Association's Ajax Axemen and was set to join Wisconsin in the fall of that year.