By Kirk Luedeke
With size, hockey skills and legitimate potential, forward Zach Sanford is looking to use a strong second half to vault himself into consideration as a top-three-round pick at the NHL Entry Draft June 30 in Newark, N.J.
The Boston College recruit from Auburn, N.H., took his impressive offensive game to another level after getting off to a shaky start in his first full EJHL season with the Middlesex Islanders Hockey Club.
“There’s a swagger now with him for sure,” Middlesex head coach and GM Sean Tremblay (Biddeford, Maine) told New England Hockey Journal. “Before, he was looking to give the puck to (Michael) Doherty or (Conor) MacPhee. Now, he’s letting those big-time shots go himself. He’s already got an NHL shot.”
At 6-foot-3 and about 190 pounds, Sanford is still growing and likely will tip the scales north of 200 pounds when he completes the physical maturation process. His blend of skating, hands and natural size combine to make him an intriguing if raw project as we get closer to the late June draft.
“It was a big step from high school hockey,” Sanford said recently. “The first part of the season I didn’t get much done, but the second half I started getting things going, and now I’m playing with a lot of confidence.”
Prior to his joining Tremblay’s Islanders team, Sanford was a dominant New Hampshire high school player with the Pinkerton Astros in Derry. He skated with current Kimball Union Academy star and 2014 NHL draft prospect J.D. Dudek (Auburn, N.H.) for several seasons, and the pair combined to give opponents fits.
“He’s one of those kids who is such a tall, lanky forward that you don’t expect him to do much,” Dudek said. “It’s surprising how good his hands are and how well he can move around in the offensive zone. He’s a dangerous player, and he doesn’t need much time or space to get a shot off and create good scoring chances.”
By the final third of 2012-13, the pure skill and potential translated into production: Sanford scored 10 goals in his final 12 games and helped lead his Middlesex IHC to the Dineen Cup championship series, where the team lost to the New Jersey Hitmen in three games. Sanford finished the season with 16 goals and 44 points in 44 games.
“The two big things I learned the most this year are compete level and adjusting to the pace (of the EJHL),” said Sanford. “Coming from high school I didn’t have to compete as hard because guys weren’t as big, strong or skilled as they are in this league. Once I figured that out and picked up on how fast the play is, things went in the right direction for me.”
New England 2013 - NHL Draft Prospects
Top Five for April
1. Adam Erne
RW, Quebec (QMJHL), 6-1, 205 (North Branford, Conn.)
Still knocking on the door of top-10 selection status for June after 70-point year.
C, Valley Jr. Warriors (EJHL), 5-10, 170 (N. Reading, Mass.)
Bloodlines, hockey sense and skill level all point to a second-round grade.
C, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 6-3, 210 (Greenwich, Conn.)
Physical element of his game stands out; brings underrated offensive upside, too.
RW, Middlesex IHC (EJHL), 6-3, 190 (Auburn, N.H.)
D, Hotchkiss (HS-Conn.), 6-6, 210 (Greenwich, Conn.)
Harvard-bound rearguard’s stock holding steady as a safe, unspectacular player.
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.