BUFFALO – There will be plenty of wide, toothy grins at the First Niagara Center on Friday night as the NHL conducts the first round of their entry draft, but no smile will be bigger than that of Boston University head coach David Quinn.
That’s because the Terriers head coach will, according to just about every NHL draftnik, see four of his players from next year’s hockey team get selected among the top-30 players drafted up on Friday night. Clayton Keller, Kieffer Bellows and Dante Fabbro are all incoming freshman recruits for next season expected to go in the top half of the first round, and defenseman Charlie McAvoy is coming off an outstanding first season for the Scarlet and White.
It would be only the second time in NCAA hockey history that four kids from the same college program have been first round picks in the same draft: the other was Minnesota ten years ago or when four Golden Gophers were nabbed in the first round, Erik Johnson (No. 1), Phil Kessel (No. 5), Kyle Okposo (No. 7), and David Fischer (No. 20).
So clearly it’s something that has Quinn excited at the prospects for BU next season, and continuing the impressive flow of hockey talent through the program after Jack Eichel’s departure following one brilliant freshman season.
“It’s fun watching these kids achieve their dreams and goals, and in the last 10 years the draft has really taken on an even greater significance to all these kids,” said Quinn. “We’re very fortunate at BU that we’ve got a school that supports our program, we’ve got a long and rich tradition and we’ve got very talented kids that are attracted to that.
“All of the stars have aligned here this year where we could have a lot of kids taken in the first round, so it’s fun to watch kids that you’ve built relationships with go ahead and achieve their goals. It’s a rare thing. It’s a testament to the work that Steve Greeley, Albie O’Connell and Scott Young have done. If you think about this class, these guys are from all over. Dante Fabbro is from Vancouver, and Clayton Keller is from St. Louis. Kieffer Bellows is from Minnesota, and Charlie McAvoy is from Long Island. It’s not like these guys all grew up in Massachusetts. [The recruiters] have done a phenomenal job of finding talent, and then doing a great job recruiting them. It speaks volumes to the work those guys have done.”
So Quinn, assistant coaches Albie O’Connell and Scott Young each deserve a healthy slice of the credit for keeping together the impressive class of talent, and former BU assistant coach Steve Greeley deserves just as much credit for his recruiting legwork prior to getting hired as the Assistant Director of Player Personnel for the New York Rangers.
With the Blueshirts not making a selection until the 81st pick, Greeley joked that “he'll be the guy at the New York Rangers table who has to be restrained from standing and clapping for those guys when they get picked by other teams.” He was joking, of course, but it speaks to the considerable investment of time and energy in recruiting an elite group of players, and then watching it all culminate on the draft floor before they take the ice at Agganis Arena this fall.
It also speaks to what Boston University has cooking on Commonwealth Ave. where they’re building a powerhouse program that could threaten for a national championship this season. That’s a level of expectation that Quinn welcomes along with the wealth of talented players.
“I think it will be an easier year of hockey for [the incoming players] because there’s so much pressure during your draft year,” said Quinn. “Whether or you’re playing college hockey, or the US National Program or in juniors, these kids are under the microscope. I watched Jack [Eichel] go through it last year, and I watched Charlie McAvoy go through it this year. It’s human nature at their age that you want to impress, and that can sometimes get in the way of doing things that you’re supposed to be doing.
“But we always have high expectations at BU, and we’ve always been fortunate to have great players here. The challenge we’re going to face is what every team faces. We’re going to have enough talent, but there are about seven or eight other characteristics you need if you’re going to win championships. We talk about it every year here: work ethic, leadership, camaraderie, mental toughness, perseverance, how you handle adversity…all of those things go into whether you win or lose, and whether you win championships or not.”
So here are a few thoughts from Quinn on each of the Big Four, including D-men in Fabbro and McAvoy that have attracted the eyes of the Bruins in a very big way:
*The creative and skilled playmaking center Clayton Keller, who lists Patrick Kane as the player he models his game after: “He’s very dynamic. He’s a guy that can really create offense off the initial rush. When he has the puck, good things always happen. He’s got elite vision, elite skill set and he’s competitive. He’s a guy that obviously needs to get a little bigger and stronger, but he’s got a swagger about him. All great players have a swagger. I know he elevates everybody’s game when he’s out there, and he’s a special talent.”
*The deadly sniper Kieffer Bellows, who hopes to follow in his father Brian’s footsteps at the NHL level someday: “When everybody talks about Kieffer they talk about his shot and his goal-scoring ability, and rightfully so. He’s got an NHL shot right now. He’s a true goal-scorer that likes to get the net, and knows where he wants to go. Not only does he know where to go, but he knows how to take advantage of his opportunities. But the thing that I really like about Kieffer is that he’s continued to improve as a player, and he’s much more than a shooter. He’s a guy that sees the ice well, and he’s smart. Sometimes when you’re really good at one thing people kind of think you’re a one-trick pony. There are a lot of other elements in his game to like. His skating continues to improve, he’s competitive and tough…and scoring goals isn’t easy in this day and age. Sometimes he makes it look easy.”
*The steady, heady Dante Fabbro, who plays in all situations and is extremely adept at moving the puck: “He’s a guy that can really control a game. He’s got a patience about him, and he’s got a confidence about him. He’s very competitive, and he doesn’t waste a lot of energy. He’s a great power play player. He makes great outlet passes, and has a real mature game already at his age. I really think the sky is the limit for him.”
*The speedy Charlie McAvoy, who was arguably BU’s best defenseman last season as the youngest player in college hockey: “The thing that impressed me the most is how he handled the physical aspect of college hockey. He was the youngest kid in college hockey and played half the season as a 17-year-old going up against 22, 23 and 24-year old kids. A lot of kids come into college hockey and have good seasons statistically, but can get physically overwhelmed at that level. That didn’t happen with Charlie at all. A lot of times he’d go in one-on-one with guys six or seven years older than him, and he’d win the battle. That says an awful lot about him as a player. You add that to his skating ability, his vision and his hockey sense, and he’s put himself in position to be a top-10 draft pick.”
Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.
Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs