The steady decline of Massachusetts born, raised and developed hockey players getting selected at the very top of the NHL Draft has been undeniable since the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s when Jeremy Roenick, Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk all went in the first round from 1988-90.
Brian Leetch (Connecticut technically, but also a Boston College product), Scott Young, Craig Janney and Tom Fitzgerald were all tapped in the first round in 1986.
Those are largely NHL stars born in the Bobby Orr Era in Boston, raised on the Big Bad Bruins of the 1970s and 1980s, and the first group weaned on the hockey rinks built all over the state.
The past two Mass-produced hockey prospects taken in the first round of the NHL Draft was way back in 2010 when the Chicago Blackhawks selected massive Noble & Greenough forward Kevin Hayes with the 24th overall pick and four picks later, the Minnesota Wild tapped the talented Charlie Coyle. Both have gone on to become legit NHL players, with Coyle showing plenty of potential in Minnesota.
Still, it’s been a bit of a dry spell for Massachusetts since then.
Last season there was only a grand total of three US-born players taken in the first round, with Seth Jones as the clear stud as the fourth overall selection to the Nashville Predators. The last Massachusetts' top 10 first-round pick was Thayer Academy and Boston University product Ryan Whitney, now with the Panthers, who was taken by fifth overall by the Penguins in 2002.
It will be interesting to see what impact the Bruins' renaissance over the past seven years will have on an already abundant crop of youth hockey players. Perhaps it will give the locals their next natural born superstar in the NHL, as places like California, Florida, St. Louis and Texas are starting to produce legit NHL talent thanks to league expansion.
Massachusetts will have another crop of prospective NHL players selected at the draft later this month at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Some of the names are familiar ones with strong local hockey ties. Ryan Donato is the best player among the 1996 birth dates. He should sound very familiar as the son of former Bruins winger and current Harvard University hockey coach Ted Donato.
Austin Prep product Bobby Carpenter is expected to be drafted just like his father of the same name, but the son’s pathway will clearly be a little different. The elder Carpenter was the third overall pick in 1981 and went directly to the NHL from St. John's Prep.
Those were the days, my friends. That simply doesn’t happen anymore.
Instead, the younger Carpenter has committed to BU and is expected to develop his game under new Terriers coach Dave Quinn.
Cushing Academy goaltender Joey Daccord is also draft-eligible and the son of former Bruins goaltending coach Brian Daccord, who counts New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider among his puck-stopping pupils these days.
It appears the Massachusetts first-round drought will go on a little bit longer as top prospect Donato is viewed as more like a second-to-third-round selection after a great career at the Dexter School. Carpenter and Daccord are lower-round likelihoods after both appeared on the final edition of the NHL Central Scouting list.
The real prized group appears to be in next year’s draft as a trio of Valley Junior Warriors products, Noah Hanifin (Norwood, Mass.), Colin White (Hanover, Mass.) and Casey Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.), could all be top 10 picks along with the highly heralded Jack Eichel (Chelmsford, Mass.) after heading to the US National Team Development Program together.
“It’s always good to have the guys drafted in this area,” said one longtime NHL talent evaluator that logs a lot of miles watching players in New England each and every winter. “That 1997 group has a chance to be really special. There could be at least a couple of top 10 picks out of that bunch.”
Perhaps next season could usher in the beginning of the next golden age for Massachusetts hockey playing stars in the NHL, but let’s focus on this season’s very talented crop of hopefuls. Here’s a rundown of the top New England NHL draft prospects, along with a scouting report from a longtime NHL talent evaluator who has had a good look at each.
We’ve ranked them in the order this humble hockey writer expects them to hear their names called in a couple of weeks and we’ve included their ranking on the North American Central Scouting List:
*C Ryan Donato from the Dexter School (ranked 58th): “The pros are: offensive ability, puck skills, a good stick and hockey sense. If he gets the puck down low it’s going to end up under the bar. I would say goal-scoring, but it’s hard to tell at a level like the Dexter School. Hopefully he can sustain the offense when he gets to the higher levels. The only problem I have with him is that he doesn’t work hard all the time. It’s not a big issue, but so much of every good hockey player’s success is based off hard work. He reminds me a little of Paul Stastny. Sometimes you watch him and the whole package is there, and sometimes he looks a little slow out on the ice.”
*D Miles Gendron from the Rivers School (74th): “He’s got a chance. He’s an NHL skater right now. He’s a ridiculous skater. The con is that he’s playing at Rivers, and he’s such a dynamic skater that he’s got so much time to make plays right now. He’s got such great wheels that he’s got 5, 6 or 7 seconds to make plays with the puck because he’s that much further ahead of everybody else. The only question is what he’s going to see when the competition picks up in speed, and there’s a more structured defense in front of him. If he doesn’t bog down and he can make that first pass, then he’s an NHL player.”
*C/LW Shane Eiserman from Dubuque in the USHL (45th): “He’s a guy going to UNH. He’s big, he’s strong and he can move. He’s good down low protecting pucks. But for some reason you don’t see a lot of UNH guys develop into NHL guys. Guys don’t seem to get better when they go out there. I don’t include James van Riemsdyk in that group because he could have played at Wentworth, and then gone on to the NHL afterward.”
*D Jonathan MacLeod from US National Team Development Program (44th): “He’s good-sized and physical, but he probably lacks a dimension [to his game]. He’s just a steady guy. He’s not sexy at all, but he’s just a solid player. He’s one of those defenseman that plays hard, blocks shots and keeps it pretty simple.”
*LW Beau Starrett from the USPHL South Shore Kings (79th): “He’s a project-type. He’s tall, but a little weak [physically] and doesn’t use his body enough. He has some hockey sense and skill. He’s raw. He’ll have to go to Cornell and play a heavy style when the day is over.”
*C J.D. Dudek from Kimball Union Academy (109th): “He’s skilled and good offensively, but he’s small. I expect him to be a very good college player. They say he’s 5-foot-11, but he seems a little smaller than that. The thing about him is the consistency.”
*LW Max Willman from Williston-Northampton High School (116th): “He’s a 6-footer, crafty with a good stick and good hands. He’s a good player. The question with him is what he’s going to be if he can’t put up big offense at the next level. He’s not really barking. He’s not really man.”
*RW Tyler Bird from Kimball Union Academy (117th): “I was never a big fan of his, but he’s really grown on me. He’s a big kid and he’s got a good set of skills. He’s got pretty good hands for a big kid. He’s a hard-charger. I like him. But he needs to realize what he is, and work to play to his strengths. He’s a guy that will need to fight for every inch he gets on the ice.”
*C Bobby Carpenter from Austin Prep (119th): “He’s a hard-working kid that shoots the puck well. He’s not big and his skating is probably a 3 out of a 5 for me. He’s an energy-type player with average hockey sense. I guess he played really well in the USHL later on in the year.”
*D Billy Sweezey from Noble and Greenough (177th): “He’s a tough kid. He’s going to Yale. He’s a good player. He plays the game the right way.”
*Thatcher Demko from Boston College (1st overall among North American goalies on the Central Scouting List): “I would think he’ll be the first guy taken of all the players I saw in New England last year. He looks like he’s going to be a starting NHL goalie. He’s a good-sized kid and he’s just good systematically and positionally that he doesn’t need to make highlight saves. He’s a little like Carey Price in that way.”
*Joey Daccord from Cushing Academy (14th among North American goalies): “He’s got good size and good fundamentals. You can tell he’s got good fundamentals just by watching, and he’s ahead of most kids right now in that regard. It’s obvious watching him play that his dad is a goalie coach. If you’re looking for a goalie he’d be a good option.”
Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.