On this week’s episode of New England Hockey Journal’s RinkWise podcast, Kirk Luedeke is joined by NEHJ prospects analyst Jeff Cox.
A respected talent evaluator in the local prospect’s world, Cox joined Luedeke to discuss a variety of hockey topics, including the outcome of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, future regional draft classes and more.
Seven New Englanders were selected in July’s two-day draft. A pair of local prospects, Matty Beniers (Hingham, Mass./Michigan) and Mackie Samoskevich (Newtown, Conn./Michigan), were selected on day one. Five other locals were selected on day two.
Due to the far-reaching effects of the coronavirus and the unprecedented nature of this past season, the 2021 draft was unique in more ways than one.
“I thought the results from 2021 were fascinating,” Cox said of the class. “Just because some of the names that you had been hearing for a long time, guys with gifted physical tools, didn’t necessarily go. Some of the players who were late bloomers or guys who worked really hard to become an even better player overtook some of those guys.”
Players like Nate Benoit (Bow, N.H./Tri-City Storm) and Shane Lachance (Andover, Mass./Youngstown Phantoms) were a few of the local picks Cox heralded for their efforts leading up to the draft.
“No one really had any idea who he was until 18 months ago,” Cox said of Benoit. “He’s a great example of a kid who just kept persevering. He’s not 6-3, he’s not this elite skater – he’s a good skater, he plays with jam, but he’s only 6-foot – but I just think, to me, he’s a great example because I think a lot of the kids around here who are 6-2, 6-3 don’t show some of that compete that you need to get to that next level. I think it’s great that an NHL team stepped up and recognized that.”
Lachance, an ‘03 forward committed to Boston University, played prep hockey at Tabor and in the NCDC with the Junior Bruins. Like Benoit, he, too, was a sixth-round draft choice, nabbed by Edmonton at No. 186 overall.
“He’s a project, but he’s another guy who was lesser-known,” Cox said. “He was at Andover High a couple of years ago, went down to Tabor. He’s a goal scorer, big kid. Skating hurts him right now. But he’s a guy who I think could possibly be a player down the road and Edmonton saw that.”
Another area of interest from the 2021 draft was the noticeable presence of second-year draft eligible picks, such as Alex Gagne (Bedford, N.H./New Hampshire), who “proved that he wanted to be a hockey player,” Cox said.
“He was going to go to Tabor, but made that Five Nations team and headed out to (play in the USHL). He challenged himself. I don’t understand some of the kids who don’t want to challenge themselves in the top league in the country and expect to get drafted. To me, players like Gagne should be rewarded and it’s another prime example of an NHL team picking a kid in his second year of draft eligibility.
“It’s becoming more and more of a trend the last 5-6 years,” Cox continued, “and I think it’s a great thing … NHL teams are now hiring guys just to scout college. A lot of those second- and third-year eligible players who are getting drafted are now college guys that have proven they were deserving of being drafted. Josh Lopina out of UMass; Casey Fitzgerald, to give a local example, didn’t get drafted out of the NTDP but then got drafted as a freshman at Boston College.
“Long story short, I think there’s an emphasis on college free agency, which in turn has put more of a spotlight on the college game. You’re seeing more and more guys get drafted out of college in their second or third year of eligibility. I think the overall growth of the USHL helps everyone in the league, (too).”
Following a comprehensive review of the local 2021 draft class, the duo shifts its sights to 2022, discussing local prospects like Jack Hughes (Westwood, Mass./Northeastern), Cam Lund (Bridgewater, Mass./Green Bay Gamblers) Ryan Healey (Hull, Mass./Sioux Falls Stampede) and Jackson Dorrington (North Reading, Mass./Des Moines Buccanneers).
Luedeke and Cox also hit on the local prep school circuit, going over a trio of East Coast Wizards standouts: Harvard commit Ben MacDonald (Weston, Mass./Nobles), Northeastern commit James Fisher (Wilmington, Mass./Belmont Hill) and Princeton commit Michael Fisher (Westborough, Mass./St. Mark’s).
The duo goes on to discuss the 2023 draft class as it relates to the New England region and more.
For more from NEHJ prospects analyst Jeff Cox, listen to the full podcast today.
The episode, as well as previous episodes, can be accessed on major podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify, as well as online at hockeyjournal.com/podcast. Podcasts are typically dropped every Friday morning.
RinkWise is sponsored by the 2021 IceBreaker Tournament, University of Nebraska High School and Bruce Haas’ “Great Game!: D1 College Hockey: People, Places, Perspectives.”