Wright, Savoie, and Exceptional Status

In Canadian major junior hockey, the exceptional status is given to a 15-year-old player who the league deems good enough to play an entire season at the major junior level. Otherwise, the player would only be able to play five games at age 15 in major junior until they turned 16. Before this season, the only players who were granted exceptional status in the Canadian Hockey League were Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Sean Day, and Joe Veleno. Of all of them, only Veleno wasn’t playing in the Ontario Hockey League; he was a Quebec League player.

This season, two players applied and only one was granted the status. Shockingly enough, it was a player from the OHL that was given the status in Shane Wright. The other– Matthew Savoie– was not given status, despite him having been compared to Sidney Crosby at age 14. It also continues the Western Hockey League not granting players exceptional status. Due to this, Savoie said that he committed to the University of Denver for the 2021-22 season. It should be noted that Jack Hughes also applied for exceptional status two years ago, but was denied and is now on his way to University of Michigan next fall….maybe…if he doesn’t get to the NHL before that, as he is projected to be one of the top two picks in this Draft.

There’s two way to think about this whole situation. The first is that it’s a travesty that the WHL isn’t letting this kid, who has 31 goals and 71 points in 31 games playing a year older than he should be. The second is that it’s good that the WHL isn’t rushing a kid who may not be able to deal with the grind of travel and physicality that the WHL often presents, not to mention the mental and maturity factor of it all.

It’s easy to see both sides of the coin. You don’t want to have a kid who’s obviously head and shoulders above his peers in bantam or midget hockey, risk him getting bored or even seriously injured, or embarrass the competition. In most of the exceptional cases– the players were able to succeed with three of the five of them being 1st overall picks in the NHL Draft and four of five being in the first round. Sean Day was the player who didn’t get pick in the first round, though he was also the only defenseman of the group who was given that status.

Some believe that Day’s performance was the reason why Hughes wasn’t given the status, but that’s subjective as hell and you could counter that by saying it takes defensemen longer to develop than forwards.

On the flip side, it’s almost good for the younger players not getting bigger than they should be if they aren’t ready for it. Again another subjective aspect of the judging process, but at the same time– to hold off on a player who the committee may have the slightest doubt of it is erring on the side of caution. You may lose a player or two– like with Savoie and Hughes– but it might be better than burning them out at a young age or having them flame out when such high expectations were placed onto them. Plus, when I mentioned maturity– these kids at 15 may or may not be ready to take on a pro-like schedule, away from home all the time, and growing up before they may be ready to.

While it could be the CHL’s loss, the NCAA does have the ability in something great. Of course, Hughes may not make it to the college level, while Savoie could be using his as a bluff or doing the same thing as Jack Eichel in playing the year before his draft year and then leaving after a season. Many claim that the major junior route is the quickest route to the NHL– and it’s probably true– but at the same time, if Savoie and Hughes can play in the NCAA, even for a year, and dominate before going to the NHL; it may change some opinions…but probably not.

On the Topic Of Training Camp and Prospects

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Training Camps are when hope springs eternal for some teams. Other teams it’s just a chance to see how good a team will be two or three or more years down the line. However, the idea that there are people who are actually “fighting” for a spot on the team is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, there’s going to be pressure on some guys, but by in large, the depth charts are pretty set.

Not only that, but it’s very odd hockey where it’s much like spring training where there’s split squads and some fans go overboard with the results– both positively and negatively. It often gets annoying and makes me want to speed up to opening night to make the idea of “position battles” go away for another year.

The thing that irks me the most is keeping the kids who have junior eligibility in the camp far longer than they should be. In all honesty, the only time a player with junior eligibility should be at an NHL camp is when it’s the prospects camp early in the summer. The NHL really should look at an “exceptional player” rule to allow some of these junior players the chance to make the team out of camp, but it would also allow the other ones who really don’t have a chance the ability to train and then play for their junior team because their seasons start earlier than the NHL’s.

It just seems a bit silly to have over sixty players in a camp when they’re going to send 15-20 home on their first few days, a majority of them going back to their junior team. I understand that technically those players are the property of the NHL teams, but does it really do them any good to have that short of an experience and miss some time with the team they’re going to spend the majority of the season with?? It’s almost the same as my disdain for keeping players up for nine games when they know they aren’t going to play there for the entirety of the season.

The idea of raising the draft age is a smart one. Even if it’s just a year, it’ll allow the player to mature more in juniors, which would do them a world of good. When you look at the amount of players who are going the NCAA route, it just shows that if you raise the age or not, those players aren’t going to be jumping into The Show right away; which is maybe what teams want with some of the contracts that they give to players being a placeholder for the prospects spot.

Maybe I’m just not into the training camp hype. One player does amazing against junior or AAAA-level talent and then people wonder why he’s a bust during the year when playing against actual pro level talent. Let the kids be kids in the junior area or the NCAA area. They don’t need to be jumped into the league when you not only lack the room for them, but also could destroy their confidence down the rode for being pushed ahead too early.

Maryland Pro/Developmental Report: 02.20.18

A couple of big moves since our last Maryland Developmental Update. Whether it be first call-ups or first goals, it’s been an eventful almost three months for the Maryland hockey prospects. We’ll start off first with the call-up:

SPHL/ECHL

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Mike Chen, Knoxville Ice Bears/South Carolina Stingrays (Rockville): 6g, 19a, +6 (with Knoxville): A tremendous start to his career, Chen earned his first call-up to the ECHL on Monday. With 25 points in 40 games, Chen led all rookie defensemen in points, while also being third in points for Knoxville and second on the team in power play scoring with 11 points (3g, 8a) with the extra man.

AHL

Sam Anas, Iowa Wild (Potomac): 18g, 22a, 4 GWG: Talk about a boost in the last two months, Anas has been fantastic. After a ten-game points-streak and six-game goal-scoring streak in December, Anas has continued through to be one of the top contributors in Iowa’s line-up. With a playoff push coming up and a bigger role, expect Anas to really show up in a big way for Derek Lalonde’s bunch.

Nick Ellis, Bakersfield Condors (Millersville): 8-9-2, 3.23 GAA, .897 Sv%: Rookie woes have gotten to Ellis after a hot start. Though he got called up to Edmonton, he saw no playing time and was returned to Bakersfield, where Laurent Brossoit has gotten a hefty share of starts since. With Brossoit called up, Ellis could be seeing more playing time and hopefully get his first win since January 6th.

ECHL

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Jack Burton, Indy Fuel (Reisterstown): 2g, 6a, 47 PIMs: He may not light the lamp or burn up the scoresheet as often as he’d like, the responsibility of Burton in his own end may be a trademark going forward. At 6’3 and 210, Burton may need to be a little bulkier in order to be a lockdown defenseman, but that very well could come with time and seasoning.

Nick Sorkin, Wheeling Nailers (Rockville): 6g, 37a, +9: Sorkin has settled into the set-up role for Cody Wydo, Reid Gardiner, and Cam Brown. Not just on his team, but Sorkin’s 37 assists rank fifth in the ECHL. Sorkin also hit a personal milestone, getting his 100th professional point in his 107th game on February 12th.

Eric Sweetman, Idaho Steelheads (Woodbine): 4g, 14a, +13: Another defenseman who is finding his footing, Sweetman has gotten better as the season has gone along. Despite his 5’11 frame, Sweetman has come into his own with 12 of his 18 points (4g, 8a) coming in the 2018 calendar year.

OHL

Adam Varga, Mississauga Steelheads (Bel Air): 0g, 4a, -8: With some scratches to his name, Varga is really getting a taste of the OHL life at 16-years old. One bright spot is that Varga did get his first OHL goal on Monday, which was his second game back from over a month being out of the line-up. Here’s hoping the stretch run will help the Bel-Air prospect going into his draft year next year.

USNTDP

Patrick Giles, US National Development Program (Chevy Chase): 7g, 6a, +4: Though he was held without a point in the U17 Five Nations Cup, which the US did win, Giles did have a couple chances here and there during the tournament. A bit of a slide since starting off the new year with four points in four games (2g, 2a), the draft eligible Marylander still has plenty of time to up his stock before going off to Boston College.

NCAA

Jerad Rosburg, Michigan State (Clarksville): 0g, 8a, 54 PIMs

Matt McArdle, Lake Superior State (Odenton): 0g, 2a, 25 PIMs

Colin O’Neill, U-Mass Lowell (Odenton): 3g, 11a, 2 SHG

Jason O’Neill, Providence (Odenton): 0g, 8a, E

Bruce Racine, Colgate (Bethesda): 1-3-1, 3.57 GAA, .898 Sv%

Maryland Pro/Developmental Report: 12.04.17

About a month ago, I did the whole thing about how Maryland does have plenty of players who were born there that are taking on solid roles in minor pro hockey, as well as Major Juniors, NCAA, and USHL. In a follow-up to that, why not do a report each month about how they’re doing through the year?? All filler, no killer– right??

AHL

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Nick Ellis, Bakersfield Condors (Millersville): 5-5-1, 2.82 GAA, .914 Sv%: While he did take Player of the Week honors earlier in the year, the season since hasn’t been to kind of Ellis and the Condors. The Condors are next to last in the league, while Ellis has been okay enough to get to the .500 mark. However, with Cam Talbot going down, it has allowed for Ellis to get his first NHL call-up of his career.

Sam Anas, Iowa Wild (Potomac): 3g, 7a, +1: The Landon School product has had a lot better sophomore year to start out with, if not a little streaky in his scoring. While he hasn’t gotten the power play minutes yet, it seems that the Wild are relying on him when it comes to that secondary scoring on this Wild team that continues to improve.

ECHL

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Nick Sorkin, Wheeling Nailers (Rockville): 3g, 16a, +1: It’s been a helluva start to the year for Sorkin, picking up on the point-per-game scoring clip he left in Wheeling last season. Sorkin is second on the team in assists, while being tied for third in helpers in the ECHL.

Jack Burton, Indy Fuel (Reisterstown): 0g, 1a, 18 PIMs: The first year pro, Burton hasn’t had much production when it comes to his time in Indy, but not much has worked out well for the Fuel this season. His time will come, as we all know defensemen take longer to hone a pro game coming out of college.

Eric Sweetman, Idaho Steelheads (Woodbine): 0g, 2a, -3: Much like Burton, the rookie year hasn’t been all that productive as of yet for Sweetman. The Team Maryland and Washington Little Caps prospect is coming off of four seasons at St. Lawrence and still trying to find his footing in the pro game.

SPHL

Mike Chen, Knoxville Ice Bears (Rockville): 3g, 6a, +6: The small rookie defenseman is making his way in the SPHL, tied for fourth in points by a defenseman with nine, while leading all rookie defensemen in scoring. Chen is currently on a three-game points streak with a goal and four assists in this streak.

OHL

Adam Varga, Mississauga Steelheads (Bel Air): 0g, 4a, -8: The young prodigy out of Maryland has had a rough go of it as a 16-year-old in the OHL with only four assists to his name. Of course, having to get up to the OHL speed from the Mid-Atlantic U16 is going to take time, but he has the ability to be an impact player so long as the Steelheads commit to training him properly.

USNTDP

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Patrick Giles, US National Development Program (Chevy Chase): 7g, 6a, +4: The Boston College commit is going to be focus on in the mid-rounds of 2018 NHL Draft and, despite playing only five games thus far at the USHL level, he has played plenty for USA Hockey’s U18 team, netting five goals and 11 points in 20 games, while also serving as an alternate captain at the U18 Five Nations Cup.

NCAA

Jerad Rosburg, Michigan State (Clarksville): 0g, 1a, 20 PIMs

Matt McArdle, Lake Superior State (Odenton): 0g, 2a, 23 PIMs

Colin O’Neill, U-Mass Lowell (Odenton): 1g, 5a, +1

Jason O’Neill, Providence (Odenton): 0g, 5a, +1

Bruce Racine, Colgate (Bethesda): 0-1-0, 5.00 GAA, .833 Sv%

 

 

On the Topic Of Marylanders in College, Junior, and Pro Hockey

If you have followed along in my life, Maryland is a huge part of it. After living in Glen Burnie for 21 years, obviously there’s a sort of pride there. But recently, I’ve seen an influx of Marylanders getting into the pro hockey ranks, as well as Division I NCAA and Major Juniors. With it being a dormant landscape for hockey, it’s always a fine sight to see a kid from Maryland get noticed on a big stage.

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One of the bigger ones recently has been Nick Ellis of the Bakersfield Condors. The Millersville native was signed by the Edmonton Oilers as a free agent after three years at Providence College where he posted a 30-9-5 record with a 1.90 GAA. Earlier this year, Ellis got AHL Player of the Week honors and has been put into a bigger role for the Edmonton affiliate.

Another player to possible get buzz this year or next is 16-year-old Adam Varga. After playing for the Washington Little Capitals U15 team, Varga took an unorthodox step by jumping to Major Juniors and signing with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. While there are territorial disputes of who’s a Marylander and who’s not (more on that in a second), but my count he is the fifth Maryland-born player to play in Major Junior after Jeff Brubaker (Hagerstown), Jeremy Duchense (Silver Spring), Charlie Pens (Perryville), and Campbell Elynuik (Silver Spring) to be stated as Marylanders in Major Junior. It’s a big step for hockey in Maryland and how the development is, as most Maryland kids go the NCAA route or even the Division III route for their higher-level hockey.

However, there is a bit of a conflict when dealing with player bios because some players will put somewhere else outside of Maryland, while other sites will post Maryland as their hometown. Elynuik is a perfect example as he is listed on HockeyDB as being from Silver Spring, but Elite Prospects will have him listed as being from Calgary, Alberta. Jarred Tinordi is another example, as he was born in Burnsville, Minnesota; but made his hay in Severna Park, Maryland– playing for Severna Park High School in his first year before going to join the US National Developmental Team. A guy like Michigan State’s Jared Rosburg is a whole other can of worms. Rosburg is listed as being from Clarksville, Maryland, but grew up in Strongsville, Ohio. Since he played for River Hill in Howard County, I’ll chalk Rosburg up to one of Maryland’s own.

(Elynuik, Tinordi, and Duchense bring about another example of guys listed as being from Maryland thanks to their father’s playing with the Washington Capitals when they were born. While Tinordi did play within the area, the others didn’t make that big an impact, especially with Duchense living in Quebec City for the majority of his youth.)

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Rosburg is one of many players who have touched NCAA Division I ice while being listed as a Marylander. The Michigan State defenseman has dealt with injuries, but has been a big presence on the blue-line and has come up with some big goals in his short career. Rosburg is following in the footsteps of Sam Anas, who is recently the most successful Maryland player, as he’s been in the Minnesota Wild organization for two years after a successful NCAA career at Quinnipiac after a solid high school career at the Landon School in Bethesda. Of course, Anas goes in that disputed Maryland/Washington DC zone where both sides want to claim him. Colgate’s Bruce Racine is in the disputed zone of Maryland/DC, as he was born in DC, but went to school in Bethesda at Georgetown Prep. Other NCAA players for the 2017-18 season are Matt McArdle (Annapolis/Lake Superior State), Colin O’Neill (Odenton/UMass-Lowell), Jason O’Neill (Odenton/Providence), and Graham McPhee (Bethesda/Boston College).

In the minor leagues, outside of Ellis and Anas; there are several others playing in the lower minor league ranks. Jack Burton was born in Reisterstown and went to Baltimore-area St. Paul’s school before heading to Colby College and then joining the Indy Fuel last season, where he is today. Another Maryland ECHLer is Nick Sorkin of the Wheeling Nailers, who played for Team Maryland and the Washington Little Caps before going to University of New Hampshire, then to the Nailers. Former Glenelg High School player and Woodbine native Eric Sweetman is in the ECHL, as well, playing in Idaho after four years at St. Lawrence University. Mike Chen played for Team Maryland growing up before heading to Division III at Salem State and is currently rostered on the Knoxville Ice Bears of the SPHL.

Women’s hockey has also grown in Maryland, especially with the likes of Haley Skarupa being from Rockville and playing on the US Women’s National team, as well as in the NWHL with the Connecticut Whale and Boston Pride after four successful seasons at Boston College. Beth Hanrahan of Poolesville played four years at Providence College for four years, being the team’s MVP in her junior and senior season, then playing for the New York Riveters before being name associate coach of Lindenwood University. Finally, Lindsay Berman of Odenton starts her third season as head coach of UMass-Boston’s Women’s team after her years in the CWHL with the Boston Blades, including a Clarkson Cup championship to her resume. Berman went to Arundel High School and played for the Washington Pride to garner attention leading her career at Northeastern University.

I’ve said before about how Maryland and the mid-Atlantic has been underserved as a market, especially with no NCAA program in the state. However, there’s a new wave coming through, especially with Varga in the OHL and young Patrick Giles (Chevy Chase) joining the US National Program; there’s a lot of shoot for in the youth programs in the Maryland (and sure, DC) area, though the high school systems does have a variety of teams. Also, the club hockey scene does have a lot of talent, but still not the top-tier talent other areas have. The area is still in need of more success stories, but I know I didn’t think in a million years there would be this much Maryland content across the NCAA and minor pro landscape as there is today.