June 2, 2004
Summer of Suter

Wisconsin star still mulling options

By Mike Eidelbes

Last month, Wisconsin defenseman Ryan Suter stated his desire to have his hockey future spelled out by May 31.
Ryan Suter

That day has come and gone. And Suter’s status is still in limbo. As of right now, he’s planning on suiting up for his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin and not embarking on a professional career with the Nashville Predators, the team that selected him in the first round of last year’s NHL Entry Draft.

“We haven’t been in contact that much,” Suter said from Madison Monday night.

Suter says a number of factors have kept talks from progressing, the latest being the passing of Sam Johnson, the billionaire chairman of S.C. Johnson Wax and father-in-law of Predators owner Craig Leipold. In the meantime, the sophomore-to-be has kept busy – he spent a couple weeks in northern Wisconsin with his uncle, former Badger and NHL star Gary Suter.

Some questioned the tactic of setting a May 31 deadline, arguing that forcing the Predators’ hand wasn’t a smart negotiating ploy. Suter says picking a date was mainly for his benefit and that of the Badgers.

“I don’t want (talks) to drag out all summer and have Wisconsin not know what’s going to go on or me not knowing what’s going to go on,” he said. “Either way, I have a great situation. I’m going to have a great time and learn a lot.”

Working in the Badgers’ favor is the possibility of NHL owners preventing the start of the 2004-05 season with a lock-out of the players. Suter, however, hasn’t dwelled on the prospect of a labor impasse.

“I really haven’t thought about it,” says Suter, who scored three goals and added 16 assists in 39 games for Wisconsin last season. “It’s definitely going to weigh into my decision.”

Regardless of whether he signs with Nashville this summer, Suter says he’s excited about the direction the Predators are heading. He feels the team mimicking the growth pattern of Stanley Cup finalist Tampa Bay and is on the verge of becoming a championship contender.

“They’re an up-and-coming team,” Suter said of the Predators. “They’ve got a lot of young guys who want to win and a great organization from the owner down to the coaching staff. I think they’ll make their move within the next couple years.”

Spreadin’ the News: The Hockey News has unveiled its top 100 prospects for the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and, as usual, there’s strong representation from the college ranks.

Hockey News Draft Rankings
(collegians only)
Al Montoya, G, Michigan
Drew Stafford, RW, North Dakota
A.J. Thelen, D, Michigan State
Travis Zajac, C, North Dakota*
Cory Schneider, G, Boston Coll.*
Adam Pineault, RW, Boston Coll.
Wes O'Neill, D, Notre Dame
David Booth, LW, Michigan State
Kris Chucko, LW, Minnesota*
Jonathan Sigalet, D, Bowling Green
Paul Baier, D, Brown*
Keith Yandle, D, New Hampshire*
V. Oreskovich, RW, Notre Dame*
Matt Auffrey, RW, Wisconsin*
Blake Wheeler, RW, Minnesota^
Kevin Porter, F, Michigan*
Shawn Weller, LW, Clarkson*
Grant Lewis, D, Dartmouth
Geoff Paukovich, LW, Denver*
* Enrolling in fall 2004
^ Enrolling in fall 2005

Leading the way is Michigan goaltender Al Montoya, ranked eighth by THN, one spot ahead of North Dakota forward Drew Stafford. The only other player from the NCAA ranks in the top 20 is Michigan State defenseman A.J. Thelen at 15th.

North Dakota recruit Travis Zajac is ranked 24th by the publication with Boston College goaltending prospect Cory Schneider ranked 26th. Former Eagles forward Adam Pineault, who left the program for major junior at the end of the season, is ranked 33rd. Notre Dame defenseman Wes O’Neill appears at No. 36.

Wait ‘Til Next Year: The 2004 draft is still few weeks away, but that didn’t stop The Hockey News from taking a sneak peak at the top dozen prospects available for the 2005 draft, which, if it were an episode of “Friends”, would be known as “The One with Sidney Crosby.”

The 16-year-old wunderkind, who spent a year at Shattuck St. Mary’s H.S. in Faribault, Minn., was Canadian Hockey League player or the year after scoring 139 points in 59 regular season games for Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and will be the first pick in next year’s draft.

Two players with college ties are mentioned by the publication as high draft picks in ’05. Center Daniel Bertram, who’ll be a freshman at Boston College, scored 22-33—55 in 44 games with Camrose of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Defenseman Jack Johnson, who scouts compare to Brian Leetch, played with the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-17 Team last season and will enroll at Michigan in 2005.

Wait ‘Til Next Fall?: For what it’s worth, the upstart World Hockey Association plans to hold its inaugural entry draft July 10. Whether the league actually materializes in November as scheduled is subject to debate but, unlike the NHL, the WHA will allow 17-year-olds to play for its member teams. The original incarnation of the WHA also permitted 17-year-olds on its rosters.

While the league hopes its rule will allow it to lure Crosby into the fold before he’s eligible for the NHL Draft, an extremely generic draft preview on the WHA Web site mentions Michigan State’s A.J. Thelen and David Booth and Michigan’s Al Montoya, T.J. Hensick, Matt Hunwick and Mike Brown as prospects.

Those signing WHA contracts aren’t likely to break the bank – team payrolls will be capped at $15 million, with an additional $5 million set aside for what the league terms a “premier” player. The expectation is teams will use that cash to attract aging NHL stars in search of a final big payday. The name mentioned most frequently is former Minnesota-Duluth standout and future Hall of Famer Brett Hull, whose father, Bobby, is the new league’s commissioner. Others rumored to be considering a move to the WHA include Cornell alum Joe Nieuwendyk and ex-Wisconsin star Chris Chelios. All three are unrestricted free agents.

Seven teams are confirmed for the WHA’s launch – Dallas; Detroit; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Hamilton, Ontario; Miami and Quebec City. Montreal may also be added to the lineup for the 2004-05 campaign.

Bobby’s World: Goaltender Bobby Goepfert, dismissed from Providence
last month by coach Paul Pooley for an unspecified violation of team rules, has visited Nebraska-Omaha.

A source speaking on the condition of anonymity confirmed that Goepfert met with Mavericks coaches and toured its campus. The 21-year-old goalie, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, posted a 21-15-4 record in his two years for the Friars, with a .921 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average. Goepfert was 15-9-3 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.49 GAA this past season.

UNO has two goalies on its roster, both of whom are freshmen. Chris Holt was 5-17-2 last season with a 3.24 GAA and a .900 sv%. Kris Tebbs was 2-6-2 on the year with a 3.63 GAA and a .884 sv%.

USA Honor Roll: Denver goaltender Adam Berkhoel was one of 10 individuals honored by USA Hockey for notable achievements during the 2003-04 season.

Adam Berkhoel is the 2004 USA Hockey College Player of the Year.

Berkhoel, who backstopped the Pioneers to the school’s first title since 1969, was tabbed as USA Hockey College Player of the Year. It’s the second time the Woodbury, Minn., native has been honored by USA Hockey – he was the organization’s Goaltender of the Year in 2000. This year, that award was presented to Cory Schneider, who’ll enroll at Boston College in the fall.

Another freshman-to-be – future Wisconsin Badger forward Joe Pavelski – was named USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year. The San Jose draft pick scored 52 points in 54 games for Waterloo of the USHL while leading the Black Hawks to their first league playoff championship.

Two former collegians captured the Bob Johnson Award for their performances on the international stage. Former New Hampshire goalie Ty Conklin, now with the Edmonton Oilers, earned the honor for his efforts at the IIHF Men’s World Championships in April. The Anchorage native was 4-0-1 for the U.S. team with a 2.00 GAA and a .934 sv% as the Americans won their first medal in the event in eight years. Ex-North Dakota standout Zach Parise, who signed with New Jersey shortly after the Sioux’s season ended, led the U.S. National Junior Team to the gold medal at this year’s World Junior Championship. He was selected as the WJC’s top forward and named to the all-tournament team after scoring 11 points in six games.

Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, who piloted the U.S. National Junior Team to its first top finish in World Junior Championship history, received the USA Hockey Distinguished Achievement Award. The Badger bench boss also coached the 2002 U.S entry for the IIHF World Under-18 tournament to a gold-medal showing.

A variety of sources were used in the compilation of this report.

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