NHL teams grab 20 high-schoolers in draft
PITTSBURGH, PA -- The popular belief is that NHL scouts and general managers are interested in good players -- no matter where they come from.
Take, for instance, the interest that center Mark Jankowski generated despite the fact he was playing for Stanstead College, a prep school in Quebec's Eastern Townships, the past two seasons. Stanstead may not be the typical breeding ground for future NHL stars, but in the case of Jankowski, the Calgary Flames think otherwise.
In a bit of a surprise, Jankowski was the first high school player off the board at the NHL Draft on Friday when the Flames grabbed the 6-foot-2, 168-pound center in the first round (No. 21) at Consol Energy Center.
"He has excellent hockey sense and is a terrific passer, so he has the ingredients to be a player in the NHL," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "It doesn't matter what level they're at … teams will go there. And every game I was at to watch Jankowski play, so was Tod Button [Flames director of amateur scouting]."
Jankowski said he'll likely play in the United States Hockey League with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2012-13 before heading to Providence College.
"The thing about his route is we have a lot of respect for what [Providence coach] Nate Leaman has done, and Jim Montgomery has done a great job in Dubuque," Button said. "We took John Gaudreau (No. 104) from Dubuque last year. We're not going to rush this kid. We're going to make sure his development is done properly."
Since the 2000 draft, 195 high school players have been plucked from various schools throughout North America. Since 2003, 174 players have been tabbed. The record for most high school players chosen was in 1987, when John LeClair (Montreal Canadiens, No. 33) of Bellows Free Academy in Vermont was the first of 69 players selected.
Here's a breakdown of the top five scholastic players chosen this weekend at Consol Energy Center. Each player is preceded by his draft number.
21-Mark Jankowski (Stanstead College, Que.), Calgary: The 17-year-old had 53 goals and 93 points with a plus-51 rating in 57 games following a rookie season that saw him connect for 36 goals and 82 points in 78 games. His rise as a prospect, according to scouts, was his incredible skill set and a growth spurt that saw him go from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-2 in a span of 18 months.
"His skill set, hands, vision, and skating are really good," Button told NHL.com. "We couldn't find a flaw in him except inexperience and the level of competition. We can only judge guys by where they play, right? We liked everything about him and we think he has a real high ceiling to be a real good NHL player."
52-Theodor Blueger (Shattuck-St. Mary's), Pittsburgh Penguins: The center connected for 24 goals and 88 points in 51 games for the Minnesota prep powerhouse, which garnered its second straight USA Hockey Under-18 National title. He'll attend Minnesota State University in the fall.
"He's a skilled player, smart with the puck and good skater," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "One of the things you notice about him is his quickness. He's not the prettiest skater, but he just gets to where he needs to go with a lot of quickness."
Gregory also likes the toughness exhibited by the Latvian native.
"I remember right off the faceoff in one of the games, he was setting the forecheck and initiating the pace of the game because he has that kind of speed and quickness and he's not afraid to play at a high pace," Gregory said. "He has good vision, and lets the play develop and then moves with the puck -- a complete package player."
53-Brian Hart (Exeter), Tampa Bay Lightning: The 6-foot-2, 216-pound right wing scored 32 goals and piled up 68 points in 29 games for the New Hampshire school this season.
Hart, who is committed to Harvard in the fall, had scholarship offers to several high-profile soccer programs but settled on hockey.
"He has a wicked wrist shot, and has broken more than a few sections of glass this year," Central Scouting's Gary Eggleston told NHL.com "He plays the point on the power play, distributes the puck well, and has been a productive scorer. He is very strong on the puck down low, and wins the puck battles, giving him a chance to make a play."
56-Sam Kurker (St. John's Prep), St. Louis Blues: The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Boston native, who had 32 goals and 60 points in 24 games this season with St. John's, possesses good size, strength and a solid wrist shot. The NHL player he most likely would be compared to is Milan Lucic.
"I remember sitting on the couch last year watching the draft and I had no idea that this was ahead of me," Kurker told NHL.com. "I'm really excited and worked hard for it and I know this is a feather in the cap. Now it's what you do afterwards that really matters."
Kurker will attend Boston University in the fall of 2013. He has been attending the annual Beanpot Classic in Boston since he was 6.
"Sam is a power forward and goal-scorer," Eggleston said. "He can get himself into open ice and shooting lanes with his skating and stickhandling ability. He has a tendency to want to do it all himself, and has led the team to wins by doing just that. He is most effective when he is engaged physically in the game. Like Nieves, he's a great kid, team captain, and well respected."
59-Cristoval "Boo" Nieves (Kent School), New York Rangers: Nieves, who was NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked scholastic player at No. 27 among North American skaters, will attend the University of Michigan in the fall. The Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League hold Nieves' junior hockey rights.
Kent School coach Matt Herr believes Nieves is a good fit with the Wolverines.
"He's a perfect match for that place ... with his speed, he'll be a great CCHA player," Herr said. "He's got a little bit of toughness in him and they need a guy who can skate and make plays. I think the whole Michigan scene will be able to add something, because he'll be around very high-end players. We have some players who are good for 'Boo,' but 'Boo' is by far the most talented player we've had.
"(Coach) Red Berenson will give Boo an introduction to how hard you need to train to be a pro and he's willing to work hard."
Nieves had seven goals and 39 points in 26 games for the Connecticut prep school this season.
"Boo is certainly the best high-profile kid in this area since [Rangers prospect] Chris Kreider," Eggleston told NHL.com.
Kreider, who won a national championship at Boston College in April before playing a big role with the Rangers in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, was taken with the 19th pick of the 2009 draft after starring at Phillips Academy, a prep school in Andover, Mass.
"Nieves just explodes off the mark and has agility, balance and quickness to break loose from traffic," Eggleston said. "He also has the physical strength to plow through checks along the wall and bring the puck with him. He sees the ice very well, is a very smart and creative playmaker and captains the team ... he's a very good team player."
Author: Mike Morreale of NHL.com