June 11, 2014

Prospects Pulse: Max Willman, Cape crusader

By Kirk Luedeke


Max Willman thought his hockey career might be over. Then he went to Williston-Northampton, and turned in a performance that made him a potential NHL draft pick. (Photos/Williston-Northampton)

When opportunity knocked for talented Cape Cod forward Max Willman, he kicked the door open by turning in an attention-grabbing performance that should inspire all young hockey players with big-league dreams.

A year ago, the Barnstable, Mass., native had played his last high school game and was seriously contemplating pursuing higher education as a conventional student. However, Willman had a believer in Williston-Northampton coach Derek Cunha, who decided to give him a shot by offering him a postgraduate spot with the Wildcats.

Fast forward to May 2014, and Willman has established himself as one of the noteworthy names from the potential area NHL draft class after a 21-goal, 44-point (in 25 games) showing. Now, he’s planning to arrive at Brown University in the fall as a student-athlete on the Bears varsity hockey squad, with his rights likely secured by one of the NHL’s 30 clubs.

“It’s been really exciting and I’m just taking it all in,” Willman told New England Hockey Journal. “I always knew I could play at the next level, whether (high school D1) or (prep), but playing down in the Cape, I probably didn’t get much exposure. It was either do a year of postgrad or go to college as a regular student, so I’m pretty happy at the way things turned out.”

Willman’s journey has not been without hurdles, but he has been able to translate his talent and passion for the sport into a new chance to live his childhood dream.

“At this point last year, I didn’t even think about the NHL draft or having these opportunities,” said Willman. “I almost just went to college as a student, so it’s a little surreal to think about all that has gone on, and I owe Coach Cunha a great deal for giving me a chance to play at this level.”

Although he finished up on Central Scouting’s final list as the 116th-ranked North American skater, NHL scouts think Willman grades out higher than that.

“The way he directed that offense and played at such an aggressive, fast tempo is telling,” said one scout from a Western Conference club recently. “He really was a man among boys this season, and there seems to be a lot more to him than what he’s already shown, which is a lot.”

Where that translates at the draft in Philadelphia June 27-28 is open for debate, but Willman is clearly trending upward.

THE WILLMAN FILE

By the numbers: 6 feet, 170 pounds   Born: Feb. 13, 1995 Shoots: Left

Hometown: Barnstable, Mass.

Position: Forward

Team: Williston-Northampton Wildcats

Previous teams: Springfield Rifles 18U, Barnstable H.S. Red Raiders, South Shore Kings, South Shore Dynamos

NCAA commitment: Brown University (2014)

Favorite NHL team, player growing up: Boston Bruins, Peter Forsberg

Current NHL players most admires: Patrick Kane, Pavel Datsyuk

Scouting report: Although he has average size, Willman is dedicating himself in the weight room to build enough requisite strength to handle the next level. A fine skater with quick burst, good balance and crisp edgework, he is also shifty and elusive. He handles the puck extremely well and attacks defenders with speed and a bevy of moves to create space and lanes for taking the puck to the net. Good, hard shot that he snaps off quickly and can pick the corners with. Good vision and underrated passer with silky soft hands. Pushes the offensive tempo of the game, putting defenders at a disadvantage with his aggressive, attacking style.

Draft outlook: After coming out of left field in the fall with the Springfield Rifles, Willman never lost steam as he emerged as one of prep hockey’s most consistent and dangerous scorers. Another rock-solid performance at the Beantown Spring Classic gives him the inside track for a draft call in the middle rounds.

In his own words: What he brings to any team: “I think on and off the ice I’m a leader. I try to talk it up and get the other guys going. I just try to make others on the team better, and I do that by attacking the net off the rush and putting the ‘D’ on their heels. The hardest thing to defend is speed, so that’s something I’ve spent a lot of time on — improving my first three steps so that I can do that effectively on every shift.”

On who has been most influential on him: “I would have to say my dad (Tim). He’s been with me every step of the way. Also, Coach (Derek) Cunha at Williston-Northampton. He’s the one who really believed in me this year and gave me the opportunity to come in and play a year of prep hockey before I go to Brown. Both have been huge positives for me in my development.”

Pop Culture Corner 

Favorite TV show: “Ridiculousness” (MTV)

Favorite pregame song: “Turbulence” by Steve Aoki & Laidback Luke feat. Lil Jon

Scouts Out: “Has terrific hands and puck skills and plays with great pace. Rapidly improving late bloomer shows a lot of fire in his game. ” Red Line Report, April 2014

Did you know: Willman will skate alongside fellow New England draft prospect Tyler Bird (Andover, Mass.) next season at Brown. The pair are two of the area’s most intriguing forwards and will give the Bears a nice boost up front. 

The NEHJ TOP 8

New England 2014 NHL Draft Prospects Top 8 for May

1. Ryan Donato, C, Dexter School (HS-Mass.), 6-1, 180 (Scituate, Mass.), Central Scouting Final Ranking: 58-NA

Harvard recruit’s final Central ranking a tad low. We see Donato as a first-round darkhorse who was the area’s top player from start to finish.

2.  Shane Eiserman, LW, Dubuque (USHL), 6-1, 200 (Newburyport, Mass.), Central Scouting Final Ranking: 45-NA

What more can we see about the former St. John’s and Cushing standout? He’s solid across the board if not flashy and will be a top-70 selection in Philly.

3.  Johnathan MacLeod, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 6-1, 200 (Dracut, Mass.), Central Scouting Final Ranking: 44-NA

Character shutdown defender and leader will kickstart BU’s rebound in 2015.

4. Beau Starrett, LW, South Shore (USPHL), 6-4, 195 (Bellingham, Mass.), Central Scouting Final Ranking: 79-NA

A sluggish stretch run will not dampen NHL enthusiasm to make the former CM star a project pick for a rainy day as he heads to Cornell.

5.  Miles Gendron, D, Rivers School (HS-Mass.), 6-2, 178 (Shrewsbury, Mass.), Central Scouting Final Ranking: 74-NA

The slick and speedy Gendron could play out west for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL before he heads to UConn in 2015.

6. Max Willman, LW, Williston-Northampton (HS-Mass.), 6-0, 175 (Barnstable, Mass.), Central Scouting Final Ranking: 116-NA

7. Tyler Bird, RW, Kimball Union Academy (HS-N.H.), 6-2, 200 (Andover, Mass.), Central Scouting Final Ranking: 117-NA

We might have this dangerous power forward too low on the list; continued his dream season with a strong performance at the Spring Beantown Classic.

8. J.D. Dudek, C, Kimball Union Academy (HS-N.H.), 5-11, 175 (Auburn, N.H.), Central Scouting Final Ranking: 109-NA

Underrated, underappreciated and yet productive. As far as pure, instinctive playmakers go, there aren’t many better in New England than Dudek.

Honorable mention:

Adam Gaudette, C, Thayer Academy (HS-Mass.), 6-0, 175 (Braintree, Mass.)

Not on a lot of NHL radars despite finishing second to Donato in prep scoring this season with 67 points in just 27 games. His average size and speed downgrades him (and he needs to get considerably stronger) for the NHL draft, but he looks to be a nice NCAA D1 prospect at the very least.

Three ‘overagers’ to watch for the 2014 NHL draft

Gavin Bayreuther, D, St. Lawrence University (ECAC), 6-1, 195 (Canaan, N.H.)

Late bloomer (’94) and former prep standout with Holderness School was passed up twice previously, but after improving his skating, played a key role on Saints’ rotation and PP unit as a frosh. He rode that success (36 points in 38 games) to the 48th overall ranking for North American skaters on Central’s final list.

Nolan Vesey, LW, South Shore (USPHL), 6-1, 190 (North Reading, Mass.)

Like Willman, Vesey is a ’95 who was passed up a year ago. The Maine recruit took a page from his older brother Jimmy after being skipped in the 2013 NHL draft by lighting it up for Scott Harlow’s SSK program (26 goals, 66 points in 48 games). The sturdy forward and former Austin Prep captain has a nose for the net and intriguing pro potential with his NHL bloodlines and passion for the game.

Cam Darcy, RW, Cape Breton (QMJHL), 6-1, 187 (South Boston, Mass.)

Former Dexter star from Southie is a ’94 who bounced around from NTDP to Northeastern to USHL before finding a home in the ‘Q’ (35 goals, 82 points). Has soft hands and a natural knack for scoring that could see him drafted in his final year of eligibility, finishing 171st on Central’s final ranking.

This article originally appeared in the May edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.

Twitter: @kluedeke29

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