May 20, 2012

From NEHJ: Hart, Calnan bring forceful presence

By Kirk Luedeke

With more professional hockey players possessing frames of 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds or greater, the term “power forward” has become much more common than it was a decade ago. 

Brian Hart posted 31 goals and 65 points in 29 games to lead Phillips Exeter to a 22-3-5 record. (Photo courtesy of Phillips Exeter Academy)

Two of New England’s top draft candidates carry the once-coveted power forward tag, and if NHL teams see that kind of potential in Brian Hart (Cumberland, Maine) and Chris Calnan (Norwell, Mass.), their draft wait in June will be short.

“I would say that I’ve made some strides this year,” Hart said recently. “My strengths are in four areas: shooting, skating in terms of having good straightaway speed, puck skills and I think the game pretty well.”

Hart had a productive season at Phillips Exeter, his second there after spending a first prep year at Brewster Academy. Prior to that, he won a Maine state high school championship as a freshman at Greely High along with older brother Kevin, a defenseman at Providence College.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound winger scored 31 goals and 65 points (in 29 games) while combining with postgrad Matt Beattie (39 goals, 73 points) to shoot the lights out against opponents to the tune of a 22-3-5 record. Hart’s raw potential and consistent offense propelled him to the 54th spot on the NHL’s Central Scouting Service’s final rankings for North American skaters.

“I think there are two things I’m working on improving,” Hart said. “(My) overall compete level and my defensive zone work and effort level.”

South of New Hampshire, another fledgling power winger was turning the heads of NHL scouts in the Bay State this season.

Calnan scored 28 goals and had 55 points in 29 games, helping the Noble & Greenough Bulldogs to the prep tournament championship game, before coming up short against Lawrence Academy by a goal. At 6-foot-3 and about 200 pounds, Calnan skates well, can play an effective two-way game and played a key role in puck possession all year for Nobles.

Both Calnan and Hart battled nagging injuries to close out the prep season. Shoulder and wrist woes cost them a chance to showcase their talents to NHL scouts at the Spring Beantown Classic tournament in Marlboro, Mass., but the prevailing thought around the rink was that the two have done enough to establish themselves as solid draft options.

“They were two of the best players in prep hockey this year,” an NHL scout with a Western Conference club said when asked to assess Hart and Calnan. “They possess the natural size and some projectable tools as well. I personally see Hart as being the more skilled of the two, but he can be a little laid back at times. Calnan’s motor is constantly revving on high, and he’s one of those team-first kids who will do anything you ask of him.” 

Calnan went to Buffalo, N.Y., in late March for the Tier 1 National Jr. Championshi

Chris Calnan scored 28 goals to lead Noble & Greenough to the New England prep title. (Dave Arnold Photography)

p tournament with the Cape Cod Jr. Whalers. Although his club failed to reach the title game (falling to Shattuck-St. Mary’s in the semifinal), the winger benefited from the experience.

“It was a little different,” Calnan said. “A lot of the teams out there had a lot of games with each other all year, so they had their systems down and were perfect at executing their game plan. I thought the skill level (for many teams) was average, but they were real good at playing as a team and they did the small things. It was a little tougher for us, getting together in the fall with the Jr. Whalers, but then taking a break to play on our prep teams before going back out. The chemistry wasn’t quite there.”

Calnan also found his rugged style earned him a trip to the penalty box more than he was used to in prep. The calls against him may have taken away some of his effectiveness at crunch time.

“I’m used to running through guys with big hits and getting in on the forecheck that way by using my size and physical play,” he said. “In the first game against the L.A. Jr. Kings, I got penalties for charging and roughing on plays I was able to do in prep without getting called. I think it maybe played a role in the back of my mind later on and when we went up against Shattuck.”

Like Calnan, Hart has the size and natural ability to make his presence felt in all aspects of the game, though some scouts see room for improvement in the physical dimension.

One player who can attest to Hart’s big-league potential is Exeter defenseman Will Goss (Wellesley, Mass.), who spent the past two years going up against the Harvard recruit in practice, then watching him effortlessly drive to the net through opposition defenses.

“The one word I would use to describe him is that he’s a force,” Goss told New England Hockey Journal. “He’s got a powerful stride and the soccer has really helped him with his agility. He just blows by guys or goes through them. There aren’t many defensemen at our level who could handle him when he got going.”

Goss also credited Hart with being a smart player and fine teammate, for whom much bigger things appear to be in store.

“He’s a great guy,” Hart said of Goss, who will play with Hart’s brother at Providence College in the fall. “We had the right team and I’m most proud of the fact that we set the record for fewest losses (three) in the 100th year of Exeter hockey.”

Although Exeter fell short of the ultimate goal of a Stuart/Corkery final match, Hart did go head-to-head against Calnan (who finished the year as Central Scouting’s 69th-ranked North American skater) in the tournament semifinal game, won by Nobles.

“I love how he plays,” Calnan said of Hart. “I think we’re similar, and he’s certainly a big-bodied power forward who has a ton of skill and a real good shot. I like how he uses deception in his game in terms of looking off the defender one way then going the other. He’s a great player and I have a lot of respect for him.”

Given that both power forwards are cut from the same kind of impressive cloth, there is an excellent chance that both will see their respective dreams of being drafted by NHL teams come true in Pittsburgh next month.

NEHJ Top Five

2012 NHL draft prospects

1. Brian Hart

Position: RW

Size: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds

Hometown: Cumberland, Maine

Current team: Phillips Exeter

2. Robbie Baillargeon

Position: C

Size: 6-foot-0, 175 pounds

Hometown: Enfield, Conn.

Current team: Indiana (USHL)

The skinny: Finished out a strong season in the top 50 on Central Scouting’s 2012 North American rankings for skaters.

3. Chris Calnan

Position: LW

Size: 6-foot-3, 195 pounds

Hometown: Norwell, Mass.

Current team: Noble & Greenough

4. Jon Gillies

Position: G

Size: 6-foot-4, 205 pounds

Hometown: South Portland, Maine

Current team: Indiana (USHL)

The skinny: Decided against Northeastern with the return of Chris Rawlings next season and recently visited Notre Dame on top of scoring a goal vs. Des Moines. His QMJHL rights are owned by Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts, but no decision has been made yet.

5. Brendan Collier

Position: LW

Size: 5-foot-10, 170 pounds

Hometown: Charlestown, Mass.

Current team: Malden Catholic

The skinny: Horribly underrated in some circles, but we feel that the future Boston University Terrier will be a draft value for an NHL team that believes in his big-game ability even as a late pick.

Honorable mention

Danny O’Regan (Needham, Mass)
5-foot-10, 175 pounds, St. Sebastian’s.

Undersized but highly skilled Arrows star is BU-bound where his dad once captained the Terriers. Scored a huge goal in gold medal game for Team USA last month, helping Americans to fourth consecutive Under-18 championship.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Kirk Luedeke can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com