NEW YORK — Michigan goaltender Al Montoya and North Dakota forward Drew Stafford may have taken more than just a gold medal away from last week’s World Junior Championships. Each of them, the top ranked goaltender and forward/defenseman, respectively, in the just-released NHL Central Scouting Service (CSS) mid-term rankings, may have punched their tickets to NHL stardom that will kick off at this year’s NHL Entry Draft in Raleigh, N.C., this June.
Montoya, who backstopped each of the six U.S. victories at the World Junior tournament, is the No. 1 ranked goaltender by the CSS. The sophomore at Michigan took advantage of fate when fellow netminder Jimmy Howard from Maine was injured before the tournament and taken off the roster. That led to Montoya holding down the No. 1 job, and his play was stellar.
Russian forward Alexander Ovechkin, the top-rated European forward, remains the heavy favorite to be the top pick in this June’s draft. Ovechkin, 18, plays for Dynamo Moscow in Russia.
Heading the list of North American-born forwards and defensemen is Kyle Chipchura of Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League. He sits eight spots above Stafford, college hockey’s top-rated forward/defenseman.
Stafford (9th) joins fellow World Junior teammate David Booth (24th), along with Michigan State defenseman A.J. Thelen (16th), Notre Dame’s Wes O’Neill (19th), Boston College’s Adam Pineault (21st) and Dartmouth’s Grant Lewis (29th) as collegians ranked in the top 30 among North America forwards and defensemen.
The top American on the list of skaters is center Robbie Schremp at No. 7. Schremp plays for London of the major junior Ontario League. Of the 270 players on the North American lists, 102 are American.
Not all players on the list will be in the draft. Players who are 18 (as of Sept. 15, 2004) must opt into the draft, but for those players already in the NCAA, doing so means giving up their remaining eligibility. On the other hand, 18-year olds that will be coming to college next fall can opt in without losing eligibility.
It will be difficult, but college hockey will try to repeat its record-breaking Draft performance of 2003. A total of nine college players and incoming freshman were selected in the first round of last summer’s draft.
This year’s entry draft is slated to take place at the RBC Center, home of the Carolina Hurricanes, in Raleigh, N.C.