Sunday, June 24, 2007


Fresh off the completion of most summer try-out camps, the USHL teams have updated their protected lists down to the 30 man squads. Last week, provided a list of the adds/drops from the USHL protected lists, and as is usual, this news then found its way a few days later to the Scouting News, albeit with The Scouting News' usual understated style:
USHL camps have been in full swing all month. As a result changes are being made throughout the league. ...The Scouting News got an anonymous off the record email yesterday telling us who has been added and dropped.
Alright, who's the wiseguy who emailed them the lists from the best USHL source, the USHL blog?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Steve Anthony Gives Up Promising Baseball Career

This will come as a shock to many, but Steven Anthony has elected to foregoe his promising baseball career, and instead play hockey for his major junior team.

In some older news, it looks like Sault Ste.Marie's first round pick (3rd overall) will in fact report. Before the draft his father wrote the Greyhounds telling them that they should not draft him because he would not report because the long travel would impact his schooling. I guess only time will tell, but I don't like it when players give up education and put all their eggs in the pro basket. Let's hope this works out for him.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Going Where They Wanted

Yesterday's Quebec "draft" continued to reflect the trend wherein players choose teams, not vice versa. I guess there is nothing wrong with that process - after all, the alternative NCAA route is exactly the same process. And when we decry the problems with a 16 year old having to move away from his family to play major junior, this represents a step in the right direction. The importance of dictating a location is particularly acute in the Quebec league, with the language and schooling issues. It is more than understandable that anglophones should dictate staying in the English speaking Maritimes, even in their hometown, rather than ending up in Chicoutimi.

The byproduct of this is the wonderful pre-draft disinformation campaigns in which players exert their leverage. Some make little pretext about their leverage: Matt Brown said he wanted to play in the Q, but would do so only for a Maritime team, otherwise he was headed to Northwood Prep. He got his wish, and will play in the Q.

Others are more disingenuous about this, with Angelo Esposito being the poster child for this. They do not make overt conditions, they maintain a blanket pretext that they would not report to the Q. In fact, it seems apparent to all that they want to go to a particular "deep pocket" team, and therefore need to spread the NCAA myth to drive ALL of the remaining teams away. This means that before the draft, they need to make their NCAA certitude clear to all. This year, Steven Anthony falls into that camp. The Halifax, NS native has stated his intention to play for Lawrence Academy in Mass. A hint to their intentions usually comes in the form of silliness of their explanations. Last year, Esposito expounded upon his desire to become a doctor. This year, Steven Anthony has rediscovered his desire to play baseball. Ask yourself, how likely is it that kids destined for the NHL, will spend his March and Aprils getting ready for the baseball season?

Before the draft, Anthony had slipped up a bit, saying he wanted to be picked first overall by St.Johns (NS). Well, St.Johns didn't take him first overall, but traded up to the 10th pick, and then selected him. And as expected, Anthony has softened his stance:

"I'm still seriously leaning toward the NCAA, but I would not rule (the Sea Dogs) out," he said. "To see them make that trade for me shows they want me and I'm open to hear what they have to say."
Color me cynical, but expect him to discovery some previously unknown benefit to the Q within the next three weeks.

A separate case was Louis Leblanc, who is interested in academics, and before the draft was set to move on to Salisbury Prep with his teammate, Danny Biega. Then Dan Donato left Salisbury, and Leblanc indicated that he would still prefer the NCAA route, but would remain in Montreal playing another year of midget for Lac St.Louis. His selection late in the first round by Val d'Or (Valley of Gold) east of Montreal means they will push heavily on getting him to completely abandon the NCAA/prep route. By the way, with the Biega pipeline to Harvard, nobody selected Danny Biega in the first five rounds ('91s are eligible only in those rounds). Similarly, nobody selected '91 D Jessyko Bernard, a New Brunswick native playing for Cushing Academy.

A more curious case is Devon MacAusland. He fits the NCAA profile, and would seem to have valid reasons for preferring that route. Before the draft he not only spoke of the NCAA route, but also indicated a commitment to BC. While I would expect him to adhere to that plan, he was selected by his hometown Moncton team, albeit in the second round. Was his pre-draft disclosure of his BC commitment intentional? Time will tell - the second round was still below his talent level. But if there was any chance of him changing his mind, the selection by Moncton maximizes those chances.

On the flip side, Thayer Academy's Rich Greer went in the second round, usually an indication of an agreement, and Moncton selected Hartford's Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who is rumored to have stated his readiness to head north.

As a footnote, John Esposito, Angie's younger and shorter brother, only went in the fifth round, a reflection that he may be more sincere in his NCAA intentions.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Steven Anthony and Angie Esposito

With the Quebec draft now approaching, the players are lining up to express their preference for the NCAA vs. major junior. As I noted in my earlier post, Steven Anthony is telling everyone he intends to go the NCAA route. Curiously, his father, has a hard time staying on message, admitting that his son does want to play in Quebec, but that the St.Johns team hasn't spoken with the family enough. Another interesting hint is that Anthony's "advisor" is Phil Lecavailier (a former Clarkson defenseman), and brother of Vincent Lecavalier, who also pulled the NCAA card in his draft year. Two years ago Phil Lecavalier also was the "advisor" to Angelo Esposito, but apparently did a poor job of advising Angelo. It was only two weeks after the draft that Angelo learned about the Quebec leage, and its opportunities. Perhaps Phil has learned more about the league, and might want to tell Anthony now.

One late note from the Ontario draft was the slippage of Riley Sheahan, a center from St.Catharines, Ontario. Predicted as a first round pick, he slipped to the fourth round because of his NCAA interest in Boston College, Michigan and Notre Dame.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

OHL Draft, review

Drafts, Lies, Etc.

Now that the Ontario Hockey League draft has taken place, we have some hints, but not truth, about whether the top 16 year olds will take the NCAA route or take the pro route of the OHL. I say hints, because teams sometimes do take legitimate risks on players with unknown intentions - witness Plymouth selecting Nick Petrecki in the first round two years ago, St.Mike's picking Brendan Smith in 2005, and Kingston selecting Wes O'Neil in 2002. This is rare, and so my natural inclination is to think that players chosen in the first two rounds will report to the major junior teams - even when they disavow that initially. Most often, you have players showing their NCAA cards, to ensure that they slide to their preferred team - generally the big-money London Knights, Plymouth Whalers, Kitchener Rangers. Step right up, Myles Appelbaum (soft Mich St commitment in 2005), or last year, where Cody Hodgins slid because of his NCAA threat, and Phil McRae fell to London because of his US National Development Team commitment.

(As an aside, it is interesting to see the Hunter's change of tune once they owned a franchise. Back in 1979, when Mark Hunter went first overall in the OHL draft, his dad took shots at Dave Simpson (brother of Craig Simpson) who told teams he would only report to the hometown London Knights. Brantford had to pass up Simpson, and selected Hunter. From the 1979 draft:
The elder Hunter also said he believes in the draft system in which 16- and 17- year olds are required to leave home to play in other cities. He lives with it because it's a 'hockey law. I know it's not (legally) right, but you have to go. I figure kids should be put on a [major junior] team and told what to do. No lawyer should be behind a 16- or 17- year old kid. I'd sure hate to be coaching a team and a 16- or 17- year old says 'see my lawyer'. That education thing by Simpson [the NCAA threat] is just a coverup. There comes a time in life when you've got to move. You can't protect kids forecover."

My, how times have changed.

Generally, players taken in the first round have deals or at least indications that they will make deals. Then there are first round talents taken in the third or fourth round, figuring the reward is worth it. London's Hunter clan does this, taking Sam Gagner in 2005, even though he had a legitimate interest in the NCAA. Fast forward a year, and a job for dad, and the players show up. Other times, it doesn't work out - witness St.Mike's taking Andrew Cogliano in the 3rd round in 2004, and BU's Corey Trivino in last year's draft.

Using that rule, there's bad news in store for Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ferris State. Each of their big name recruits were selected in the first round, and by teams known for having the resources to get their players. Matt Duchene, who would have been a top 2 pick, "slid" to fifth and the Brampton Battalion. He and Hodgins share the same family advisor, and are friends. So, things don't look great for Michigan State.

The only exception appears to be in Kingston, where the first pick, Ethan Werek, was fairly emphatic in rejecting Kingston's overtures. According to the article, he's headed to BU.

One other point of interest is Erie's selection of Lincoln USHL goalie Bryan Hogan in the fifth round. What makes it intersting is that he is an '88 in a '90 and '91 draft. Those picks mean the team has a special reason for taking the unique pick. Last year Matt Martello was a similar pick, and while he stuck out his commitment to LSSU, there was smoke, and later he ended up in Kitchener.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Drafts, Lies, and Videotape has a good story in advance of the Quebec draft about top prospects who are inclined to take the NCAA route. As has become an open secret, these pre-draft ruminations about going the college route dates back to the 1970s and the Ontario draft, where stars like Dave Simpson dictated that they would report to only certain teams.

Turning to this year's Quebec draft, the early announcements of NCAA interest are coming fast and furious. Some are legitimate, such as Danny Biega, whose brothers already have shown the seriousness of their intention. Similarly, Louis Leblanc, Biega's teammate at Lac St.Louis, has made tours of top NCAA programs such as Princeton and Brown, as well as BC, BU, Clarkson and Vermont. I've also heard that Francis Drolet might be interested in the prep route. Unfortunately, having seen Angelo Esposito truly game the system, these claims must be taken with a grain of salt.

Finally, there are a couple of kids from the Maritimes expressing interest in heading south for prep school. Matt Brown and Steven Anthony are featured in the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

Both Brown and Anthony said they have not yet decided if they will play major junior hockey because they both have opportunities to go to an American prep school instead. Brown is being heavily recruited by Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y. and said he is "leaning that way right now" because it would put him on track for a possible scholarship to an NCAA university.

"Right now I’m considering Northwood School very intently. I’m looking at that pretty closely right now," said the well-spoken Grade 10 student. "I’m pretty focused on school. That’s important to me. But I don’t know how it’s going to go for sure right now."

Anthony said he is looking closely at going the American route because it would allow him to continue playing baseball. He is an outstanding pitcher and catcher and going that way would give him more time to decide which sport he likes most.

"I’m accepted to a prep school down in the States called Lawrence Academy and I’d still get to play baseball," Anthony said. "I’ve had some college offers … for hockey but they said I could probably play baseball as well. It’s still a really serious (option) for me."

But Anthony and Brown both emphasized that they are not expressing some phoney interest in going the NCAA route just to manipulate who drafts them.

Friday, March 16, 2007

NCAA vs. Junior Hockey

With apology for the long gap between posts, I have a couple of stories that again focus on the relative competition for young Canadian players.

The first is a rather disjointed article by Steve Simmons in the Toronto Sun. He seems to have approached the story with a theory, regardless of what he learned in his interviews. Therefore, the article is couched as a story about the NCAA turning its back on Canadian players, citing the lower percentage of Canadian players in the NCAA, and then stating "While colleges won't admit it, there is inherent pressure, considering the relative strength of American hockey, to prefer Americans over Canadian."

The problem with his theory is that the people he quotes say just the opposite - they'd love to have more Canadians, but are unable to present their option to 15 year olds, thereby losing out to a system stacked in favor of Major Junior hockey. As Jeff Jackson notes:

"There's not much of a fight with the junior leagues because we can't compete on an even playing field. They draft a kid at 15. Kids are getting agents when they are 14. It's the agent's job to lock up the kid. So what do you do if you're the agent? Does he send him to junior hockey, where you now have a client's signature on the dotted line? Or does he advise him to go to college, where you can't represent him?

"The juniors are in business. The agents are in business. The decisions are being made at too young an age."

None of this seems to register with Mr. Simmons, who concludes with the alarmist view that "The next tier of Canadian players may not [have a scholarship option]."

From the comments of Coach Berenson and Jackson, it seems that they are frustrated with the lack of ability to meet with and educate the players at the necessary age. As I've written before, the NCAA rules, prohibiting teams from initiating contact with players before their senior year may make sense in sports where the competition is between schools, but makes little sense for players who have a third, non-NCAA option. I've never understood why the NCAA doesn't allow teams to make a pro-NCAA sell to these kids, when the other result is to provide pro leagues with the contact for these young kids.

Another interesting debate arises out of the USA's venue for developing players for the NCAA, the USHL. The USHL's Central Scouting Service continues to present the case for attracting players from Canada, showing the long odds of players getting to the NHL, and the advantages of securing an education. With the Candian Development Model pushing elite players into a choice at age 16 between major junior or a lesser level of play, the USHL is striving to present a third option. Each year the USHL continues to gain in depth, and becomes a stronger option, and is gearing its program at the younger talent pool (witness, the Future's draft). Whether this sways the decisions of 15 year olds remains to be seen.