By Kirk Luedeke
Coming off of what was one of the thinnest New England-area draft crops in recent memory a year ago, the 2012 class boasts solid depth even if there isn’t a clear-cut favorite to go in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft on June 22 in Pittsburgh.
In a bit of a suprise, Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass.) edged Phillips Exeter product Brian Hart (Cumberland, Maine) for top billing in the New England Hockey Journal’s annual NHL draft rankings.
After being passed over a year ago, Vesey (who was NEHJ’s No. 3 draft prospect for 2011) put his energy and focus into proving all 30 NHL clubs who passed on him wrong for doing so.
“I think Vesey’s the best draft-eligible player coming out of the area,” one NHL scout said recently. “He may be a year older, but you can’t deny the fact that he has size, skill and hockey sense. He put everything together and was a man on a mission for South Shore (of the EJHL) this year.”
Vesey headlines a forward-heavy but deep core of draft prospects compared to a year ago, when just five total New England natives were drafted in St. Paul, Minn.
“I think that it turned out to be a pretty good group that is solid all around,” said longtime Central Scouting Service scout Gary Eggleston (Wakefield, Mass.). “What is interesting is that we saw some (Massachusetts) public high school players emerging as draft options along with the other kids in prep. I think it’s a good base group.”
Hart is the highest-ranked New England player in the draft’s primary 1994 birth year. The Harvard recruit was a star hockey and soccer player in prep school, bringing an impressive mix of size and talent. The margin between Hart and Vesey is razor-thin — more 1 and 1a in the rankings than 1-2 — with the future Crimson teammates showing real upside as long-term projects for NHL jobs one day.
Chris Calnan (Norwell, Mass.) of Noble and Greenough and Robbie Baillargeon (Enfield, Conn.) of the Indiana Ice (USHL) are two forwards who appear to just to be scratching the surface of their potential after excellent seasons. Calnan is a power forward who tries to pattern his game after Boston Bruins winger Nathan Horton, while Baillargeon is a smart and industrious playmaker who admires Philadelphia star Claude Giroux the most.
New Hampshire-born but Maine-raised Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine) is the top goaltender in the class, possessing excellent size and a strong technical foundation. He made more than 2,000 saves for the Indiana Ice as Baillargeon’s teammate, leading his club to the USHL semifinal round before falling to Green Bay.
St. Sebastian’s star Danny O’Regan (Needham, Mass.) is the NHL draft’s biggest riser, having made a huge statement as one of Team USA’s best forwards on the gold medal-winning squad at the World Under-18 Championship in April. He was the only non-national team member to be added to the group and could end up being a top-three round pick. He’ll go to Boston University, where his father, Tom, captained the Terriers in the early 1980s before embarking on a pro career and seeing action with Pittsburgh.
Undersized and tenacious Charlestown, Mass., natives and close friends Brendan Collier and Matt Grzelcyk (pronounced Grizz-lick) have earned their place in the top 10 as passionate players who are not ranked all that high by Central Scouting and don’t get mentioned in a lot of draft conversations. However, they both are winners who bring the kind of on- and off-ice attributes that could see them selected in Pittsburgh at some point.
This was the most difficult group of area players to rank for the NHL draft going back at least 12 years. Players such as Nobles leading scorer Adam Gilmour (Hanover, Mass.) and U.S. NTDP and Boston College recruit Frank Vatrano (East Longmeadow, Mass.) were in the mix and have a strong chance of being drafted. Their absence from a subjective ranking system is not an indictment of a lack of talent or ability, but a validation of how deep and versatile the New England 2012 draft class is.
1. Jimmy Vesey
Hometown: North Reading, Mass.
Position: Left wing
Weight: 200 pounds
Team: South Shore (EJHL)
2011-12 stats: 45 GP, 48 G, 43 A, 91 Pts., 43 PIM
CSS final rank: 77 North America
The skinny: Vesey used the draft snub as powerful motivation to shatter EJHL scoring records with the Kings under Scott Harlow (Bridgewater, Mass.). His skating continues to get better, but his high-end instincts and soft hands mean he won’t get skipped this time. The 2012 John Carlton Memorial Trophy winner as the top area scholar-athlete in hockey also has added about 15 pounds of muscle to his frame thanks to hard work with noted trainer Brian McDonough (Easton, Mass.).
The buzz: “He’s such a strong skater and was a lot more aggressive with the puck this year, taking advantage of his good hands and hockey sense. With his added strength and conditioning, he’s been so much more effective in all areas of his game. ” — Gary Eggleston, regional scout, Central Scouting Service
2. Brian Hart
Hometown: Cumberland, Maine
Position: Right wing
Weight: 216 pounds
Team: Phillips Exeter
2011-12 stats: 29 GP, 32 G, 36 A, 68 Pts., 20 PIM
CSS final rank: 54 North America
The skinny: Power forward and productive player is a two-sport star in hockey and soccer. Hart has good mobility, puck skills and a big shot to go with his advanced physical development; projects as a top-six contributor at the NHL level. Harvard recruit needs to work on being less of a perimeter player and using his size/strength more consistently.
The buzz: “(Hart is) an excellent athlete who got several soccer scholarship offers from high-level programs. He’s a very strong player and skater who turns it on when he gets an opening to with the puck and has an excellent wrist shot that he uses to real good effect.” — Gary Eggleston
3. Chris Calnan
Hometown: Norwell, Mass.
Position: Left wing
Weight: 190 pounds
Team: Noble and Greenough
2011-12 stats: 27 GP, 28 G, 27 A, 55 Pts., 13 PIM
CSS final rank: 69 North America
The skinny: Another fledgling power winger who boosted his stock with a successful season. He finished second on the Bulldogs in scoring and played an important role in that team’s run to the prep championship game. With a nonstop motor and improved offensive production, the Boston College-bound Calnan is the complete package who appeals to NHL clubs for his upside and maturity. The nephew of Jeremy Roenick (Marshfield, Mass.) by marriage, he has a good family mentor to lean on as he continues his path to pro hockey.
The buzz: “It’s all about size and compete with Calnan. He skates well and has the courage to go into the right areas (of the ice), where you don’t need a lot of skill … to make plays and score. ” — NHL scout, Eastern Conference
4. Robbie Baillargeon
Hometown: Enfield, Conn.
Weight: 180 pounds
Team: Indiana (USHL)
2011-12 stats: 54 GP, 14 G, 34 A, 48 Pts., 36 PIM
CSS final rank: 50 NA
The skinny: The former Cushing Academy star challenged himself at a higher level in the USHL and it paid off, as he averaged nearly a point per game in his first season. Intelligent and industrious, Baillargeon is a slick playmaker who sees the ice well and can make pinpoint passes. He’ll need to build more strength and mass on his lean frame, but he should be ready for an instant impact when he arrives at Boston University in the fall of 2013.
The buzz: “I like Baillargeon because he’s a skilled playmaker and underrated in the draft discussion, but also because he left the easy mark in prep school to play at a higher level against guys a lot bigger and stronger than he is. And you know what? He did a lot better than people thought he would.” — NHL scout, Western Conference
5. Jon Gillies
Hometown: South Portland, Maine
Weight: 217 pounds
Team: Indiana (USHL)
2011-12 stats: 51 GP, 2-19-2, 2.78 GAA, .915 save pct.
CSS final rank: 6 (G) NA
The skinny: With prototypical size and a calm, poised demeanor, the Salisbury prep product who also left the region for the USHL has legitimate big-league potential. Originally committed for Northeastern and wooed by the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, Gillies last month decided to play for Providence College this fall.
The buzz: “Almost every championship team — the reason they win is because they have a great goalie. Tim Thomas stood on his head for Boston to win a Stanley Cup, and Jon is a lot like (Thomas) for us. He’s a big boy who comes up with bigger saves and hates to give up goals, even in practice.” — Robbie Baillargeon, Indiana Ice teammate
6. Danny O’Regan
Hometown: Needham, Mass.
Weight: 162 pounds
Team: St. Sebastian’s
2011-12 stats: 27 GP, 21 G, 35 A, 56 Pts., 8 PIM
CSS final rank: 76 NA
The skinny: Undersized offensive center opened a lot of eyes this season with the Arrows and then in April at the World Under-18 tournament. Quick and agile, with fast hands and top offensive instincts; he’ll have to get stronger, but looks like another cog in the impressive class that Jack Parker (Somerville, Mass.) is building at Boston University.
The buzz: “I would say that (O’Regan) is probably the most skilled of all these New England prospects. He might surprise people with where he’ll be drafted. He has excellent hand and foot speed, thinks the game very well and is also a gritty, hard-nosed kid despite not having a lot of size.” — Gary Eggleston
7. Brendan Collier
Hometown: Charlestown, Mass.
Position: Left wing
Weight: 168 pounds
Team: Malden (Mass.) Catholic
2011-12 stats: 25 GP, 26 G, 38 A, 64 Pts., 36 PIM
CSS final rank: 143 NA
The skinny: Not the biggest player on the ice nor the fastest, but all he does is score and in huge moments, too. On paper, Collier doesn’t have the flash or pedigree of some of the draft peers NEHJ ranks below him, but at the end of the day, he’s a winner who plays with unbridled enthusiasm and effort. Boston University boosters will come to know this underdog, but the two-time Super 8 champion is slated for a year in the EJHL with the Valley Jr. Warriors.
The buzz: “No moment seems too big for this kid. Every time you note that he doesn’t do something as well as others, Collier will make a jaw-dropping play on his next shift. I don’t know that I saw anyone this season play with more heart than he does, but this question is going to follow him: Can he do it in the NHL?” — NHL scout, Eastern Conference
8. Sam Kurker
Hometown: Reading, Mass.
Position: Right wing
Weight: 198 pounds
Team: St. John’s Prep
2011-12 stats: 24 GP, 32 G, 28 A, 60 Pts., 23 PIM
CSS final rank: 36 NA
The skinny: Big, strong and skilled, NHL teams all took notice of the Eagles’ scoring star and member of the USA 2011 Ivan Hlinka squad. There is no questioning his size and natural talent as Central Scouting’s top-ranked regional prospect. However, there were too many times this season when Kurker was more of a passenger and did not take charge of games the Boston University recruit should have dominated given the level of competition. If he can add the element of consistency to his game, he will be a force.
The buzz: “(Kurker is) a power forward and goal scorer. He always works himself into open shooting lanes with his skating and stickhandling ability. He does have a tendency at times to want to try and do it all himself, but to his credit, he had a big part in helping his team win games this season. ” — Gary Eggleston
9. Devin Tringale
Hometown: Medford, Mass.
Position: Left wing
Weight: 186 pounds
Team: Lawrence Academy
2011-12 stats: 31 GP, 19 G, 27 A, 46 Pts., 8 PIM
CSS final rank: 79 NA
The skinny: Scored the winning goal in Lawrence Academy’s prep championship, and is a well-rounded player who does a bit of everything. The playmaking wing brings a physical but clean style. Tringale (pronounced Trin-GAH-lee) has a knack for finishing scoring chances, and despite a lack of blazing speed, uses his vision, hustle and feel for the game to get things done. Another impressive character forward that Harvard coach Ted Donato (Dedham, Mass.) is adding to the mix.
The buzz: “I don’t think there’s anybody who works harder than he does in this group. He’s just a tenacious, physical forechecker who is relentless in puck pursuit and is real good at knocking guys off the puck and transitioning those turnovers into scoring chances. He is a very good passer with a nice shot” — Gary Eggleston
10. Matt Grzelcyk
Hometown: Charlestown, Mass.
Weight: 170 pounds
Team: U.S. NTDP (USHL)
2011-12 stats: 53 GP, 2 G, 20 A, 22 Pts., 18 PIM
CSS final rank: 177 North America
The skinny: Townie and Collier’s closest friend from their Middlesex Islanders days is an undersized defender who has legitimate two-way potential at the next level. The son of a member of the Boston (and TD) Garden bull gang for more than 40 years, the player better known as “Grizzy” is a superb skater and puck-mover who helped lead Team USA to an unprecedented fourth consecutive gold medal at the World Under-18 tournament.
The buzz: “Grzelcyk is a good player, and it’s so important in today’s game to get the puck out of the zone — he does that quickly and moves the puck well. He’s smart, and smarts can outweigh size. You’d never ask him to go up against an Evgeni Malkin or Jordan Staal, but there’s a place in the NHL for a player like him.” — NHL scout, Eastern Conference
Adam Gilmour (Hanover, Mass.), C, Noble & Greenough
Big, talented center led Nobles with 56 points and has intriguing potential at Boston College after decommitting from Quinnipiac. Has NHL-coveted size and skill, but Central Scouting’s 101st-ranked North American skater needs to play with more urgency at the next level.
Frank Vatrano (East Longmeadow, Mass.), C, U.S. NTDP
Thick-bodied sniper quietly put together two solid seasons in Ann Arbor, Mich., to go with his Under-18 gold medal. Former Boston Jr. Bruins standout is 88th-ranked NA skater by CSS.
Doyle Somerby (Marblehead, Mass.), D, Kimball Union
Huge defender at 6-foot-5 is still raw, but he has nice NHL potential if he can pick up a couple of steps and establish himself as a shutdown defender at Boston University (ETA: 2013). Central’s 99th-ranked NA skater.
Joe Young (Hanover, Mass.), G, Boston Advantage
Former BC High star has long limbs, quickness and raw potential as a long-term project. He is said to have significant interest from the USHL and BCHL for next season.
Brian Morgan (Windham, N.H.), LW, N.H. Jr. Monarchs
The gritty power forward and University of Maine recruit has work to do on his skating, but he has the smarts and attitude to develop into a pro prospect down the road.
Mark Hamilton (Winthrop, Mass.), D, Salisbury
A super sleeper and draft longshot, raw defender has size and mobility. Headed to UMass for 2013.
NEW ENGLAND PLAYERS TO WATCH FOR 2013
Adam Erne (Branford, Conn.), LW, Quebec (QMJHL)
Former Boston University recruit and big-bodied winger opted for the QMJHL and established himself as a legitimate first-round player to watch for 2013 if he can take his game to another level next season. Compete levels have wavered in the past, but if Erne puts it all together, he is a legitimate power forward prospect for the NHL.
Ryan Fitzgerald (Reading, Mass.), C, Malden Catholic
The son of Pittsburgh assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald (and Bruins scout Scott’s nephew) helped lead MC to its second-consecutive Super 8 championship. Creative and skilled, Fitzgerald doesn’t have a lot of size, but has improved his skating and could be a big draw for scouts. The late ’94 BC-bound pivot will move onto the EJHL next season with Lancers linemate Collier and Lawrence Academy star Tringale, where the three could form a devastating scoring trio for Andy Heinze’s Valley Jr. Warriors.
Wiley Sherman (Greenwich, Conn.), D, Hotchkiss
Massive defender (6-foot-6) needs to fill out his 190-pound frame, but skates well and appears to be one of the more intriguing area options for the 2013 NHL draft. Harvard recruit will be closely watched next season to see if he can better develop his puck skills and decision-making.
Ross Olsson (Billerica, Mass.), LW, Williston-Northampton
Huge and talented winger who will attend Northeastern University in 2013 left Billerica High for the challenge of prep last season and impressed. November ’94 birthdate was one of the best forwards at the 2012 Spring Beantown Classic and has some legitimate offensive upside to go with his 6-foot-5 frame. He may take his budding power forward game to the USHL next season.
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Kirk Luedeke covers the NHL draft and New England’s draft prospects for New England Hockey Journal. Read his blog, Kirk’s Call, at hockeyjournal.com.