After noting the dearth of draftees atop ECAC Hockey’s leaderboards earlier this week, I took to calling some of the conference’s coaches to find out what they thought of the discrepancy.
Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said, “in my opinion, the NHL draft is probably a little young.
“You look at [goalie Eric] Hartzell and [forward Jeremy] Langlois for us right now, those kids were very good players when they got to me, but they’ve blossomed in college, in our system and with our strength man and with video and everything we do. Should they have been drafted? Langlois, maybe as a late-round pick; Hartzell, probably not, where he was at that point. It’s so hard for NHL scouts to evaluate kids at 18 and try to project where they’ll be at 23 or 24. You see it over and over again, the mistakes that happen, even in the NFL draft where they draft kids who are 21 or 22. It’s not an exact science.
“I think after you get by the first three rounds, it’s a crapshoot after that. There’s a lot of late-round picks that get drafted that can’t even play college hockey. In the NFL draft, they take the kids after college. If you did that — if you waited three or four years — you’d have a lot more guys who hit the mark.”
“Lee Stempniak was a fifth-round pick, but David Jones was a ninth-round pick, and so was Tanner Glass, and they’re bona fide NHL players,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet, unwittingly illustrating Pecknold’s view that degrees of mature talent can be notoriously difficult to ascertain from immature qualities.
While Pecknold points out the challenges that pro scouts face, Brown boss Brendan Whittet takes a different tack, arguing that reputation seems to supersede skill in some cases.
“Sometimes a player will get a stigma after getting bypassed in a draft or two, and people will be asking, ‘Well, why is that? Why is that? There must be something that’s holding him back,’” Whittet said. “And whether that’s true or not, I think what most people need to do is trust their eyes, and say, ‘You know what, he’s pretty good.’
“It’s just like recruiting: One kid gets a good name, or it comes out that [highly ranked team] so-and-so’s dealing with that kid, and it’s like, ‘Really? We’d better deal with him, too!’ When in actuality what I’ve always believed is trust what you see. Whether he’s 17 or 20, it doesn’t matter: A good player is a good player. A guy that can execute is a guy that can execute. Sometimes it’s a pack mentality. A guy gets a good reputation and everyone gloms onto him, but on the other hand, you’ll see a kid and think, ‘I like him, but why isn’t anyone else talking to him?’”
Whittet’s former boss, Gaudet, agrees: “We have some very outstanding players in our league. … The whole draft thing, it’s almost like recruiting in a way. We recruit the best players we think will fit our team.
“Whether they’re drafted or not is irrelevant to us,” Gaudet said.
One thing all the coaches were sure to note was that regardless of draft status, true value rises to the top in the end.
“That pack mentality can definitely be self-perpetuating, that’s for sure,” Whittet said. “You can’t say what teams’ needs are, or what they see or don’t see, or why players were bypassed at a lower level.
“We tell our guys, ‘Control what you can control.’ Those guys continue to perform at the level they do, they’re going to have opportunity. So be it, so they’re not drafted, big deal. There’s something to be said for being a free agent, being able to take advantage of that opportunity.”
As noted in the afore-linked blog, most of ECAC Hockey’s top performers are free agents at the moment.
“And so what?” Whittet asks. “Maybe they’re late bloomers, maybe they’re guys that have been overlooked because of their size or the league they were playing in. You know what? In the long run, it all evens out. The guys who are elite-level players will have the opportunity to play afterward.
“And you know what? Just because you’re drafted, that doesn’t guarantee you anything.”
Not so Green anymore
The last undefeated team in the nation isn’t undefeated anymore, but it’s not too sore about it.
“We have a really young team that plays very, very hard,” Gaudet said of his 6-2-2 Dartmouth squad. “They’re a great group of guys to be around on a day-to-day basis.”
The team is 1-2-1 in its last four games after starting 5-0-1, but one of the losses was during a stressful finals week (a late 5-4 loss at Colgate), the other came in what was then the top-ranked team in the nation’s barn (a 6-3 loss at Boston College), and the draw was a hard-fought 1-1 battle against Cornell at ever-intimidating Lynah Rink.
The BC loss “was disappointing, honestly, because we were in a 3-3 game and territorially it was an even game,” Gaudet said. “They made more plays than we did. They’re quick, they’re fast, and [shifty playmaker Johnny] Gaudreau and his linemates came out quick and made a great play at the start of the third period” to break the tie.
The Eagles added two more in the third to put the game away.
“But I thought we played really, really well. In retrospect, [BC] played the game the way we want to play it: They were quick and they were fast.”
For two periods, the Big Green were just as quick and just as fast. There is a long way yet to go to find 20 more minutes of quick and fast.
Bobcats are kittens no longer
“We’re playing well, no doubt about it.”
Yeah, Pecknold just about summed up the prevailing thoughts on the streaking Q-Cats. Enjoying an eight-game unbeaten streak (7-0-1), Quinnipiac’s head coach is fielding a lot of calls these days.
“I think we’re probably slightly overachieving, but we’ve got a good team and we’ve definitely gotten a couple good breaks,” Pecknold said. “I think a couple times in our recent streak we’ve struggled a bit, but we seem to find a way to win. Which is good; that’s the mark of a good team.
“Hartzell’s been great. He’s bailed us out a few times. On Saturday, it wasn’t our best game against RPI but Hartzell was great, Matt Peca scores a three-on-five penalty-kill goal to win the game. (Peca scored the game-winner in the 3-1 victory.) It’s been little things like that, and I think when you work hard and you’ve got good character, you get bounces. Things do go your way, and they have been lately.”
They weren’t always, though. Nine games ago, QU suffered a frustrating home loss to American International, a team that the Bobcats outshot 40-17. It was Quinnipiac’s second loss in a row, coming on the heels of a 5-1 defeat against Colgate in Hyannis, Mass.
“We had a lot of players just not prepared for that game,” Pecknold said of the AIC result. Psychologically, physically, emotionally, the coach could see that his bench was simply not in the game.
The staff made major changes to the lineup, but even those were barely enough to get the Q over the hump. Three nights later, Colgate stood in the way once again.
“The Russ Goodman overtime goal was huge for us,” Pecknold said of the Nov. 9 win over the Raiders that started the unbeaten run. “It’s hard to say it’s a pivotal moment in our season … but we outshot Colgate 37-10 in that game and it’s 2-2 in overtime. We really needed a win. We deserved a win, and we needed a win, and that Goodman OT goal really kind of launched us and gave us the confidence we needed.”
Since then, QU has been rolling in W’s.
Pecknold pointed to Hartzell and the penalty kill as two big reasons for QU’s early-season success: The goalie is stopping over 93 percent of shots on net, and the PK units have surrendered only four goals in 69 short-handed situations (94.2 percent).
The coach also noted sophomore defenseman Danny Federico, senior forward Goodman, classmate Clay Harvey, second-year forward Bryce Van Brabant and senior forward Ben Arnt for having “really emerged in bigger roles, and playing well.”
Last but not least, the veteran coach shrugged that “last year, we were maybe a one-and-a-half-line team; this year, we have three good lines that can score. We’re balanced, and I think that’s important in order to win.”
Many of the Bobcats’ 11 seniors are looking at their best years yet, as five of the team’s top seven scorers are in their graduating years.
“They’re certainly making the most of their last year in college,” Pecknold said.
Thanks to their leadership, the team’s positivity, work ethic and general chemistry “is infectious, and it’s showing up in our game,” Pecknold said.
While some observers — including this one — have posited that this year’s crop isn’t as star-centered as some QU teams in recent memory, the coach is quick to note that he still has some thoroughbreds in the stable.
“We’re deeper than we’ve been in the past, but we’ve got high-end players,” Pecknold said. “Similar to what we had in the Brandon Wongs and David Marshalls, we’ve got Connor and Kellen Jones, we’ve got Matthew Peca. Their numbers are a little bit off right now: Connor was out for a while with an injury, he’s played some games where he really wasn’t back in shape; Peca was out for a little while and came back this weekend and played after only two days of practice after missing two weeks. Langlois is high-end. I think as the year goes on, you’ll see Connor, Kellen and Peca; their numbers will come back to where they should be. They’re generating chances; they’re just not finishing.”
If that’s the case, may God have mercy on the opposition that finds itself in the way of a finished (or finishing) product.
USCHO covers the ECAC all week long on the ECAC Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.