Draft Notebook: Toews, Seabrook, Jumpers

A lot of people love the story of the underdog who succeeds, and the NHL Entry Draft has its fair share of underdog stories.

Though there were a lot of impressive jumps made by players, and an almost equal number of players whose stock slipped, perhaps the most notable jump was Keith Seabrook, a member of Denver’s freshman class of 2007.

Seabrook was selected in the second round by Washington, 52nd overall; that despite the fact that he wasn’t even ranked by NHL’s Central Scouting Service.

“One of our scouts saw him and liked him,” said George McPhee, Washington’s general manager. “We thought he was an offensive player. A bit of a long shot, but [we don’t mind developing him].”

Usually players who aren’t ranked by CSS don’t even attend the Draft. The fact that Seabrook hails from nearby Burnaby, B.C., though, made it possible.

Waiting Game

On the other side of the jumpers was Boston University freshman-to-be Brian Strait. Though maybe thought Strait could go as high as the first round, his stock slipped and he ended up being selected early in the third round by Pittsburgh.

“It was a long wait,” said Strait. “I expected to go a little earlier, but that’s all right. Sitting up there you’re sweating and waiting, then finally your name gets called.

“I expected to go at the end of the first or the second round, so the wait was a little tough.”

Connections Count

Though college’s western conferences, the WCHA and CCHA, dominated the first round of the draft, it didn’t take long in round two for the east to finally get on the board. Carl Sneep, a freshman-to-be at Boston College, was taken with the second pick of the second round, the 32nd overall.

Sneep, a 6-foot-4 defenseman from Brainerd High School in Minnesota, scored 37 points in 26 games a season ago. Though ranked 26th in the Central Scouting rankings, many didn’t see him going as high as he did. The Hockey News picked him to land at 87th, late in round three. International Scouting Service ranked him 80th.

So why Pittsburgh and why so high? One potential connection may lie in Chuck Grillo. Grillo, a Pittsburgh scout, also runs Minnesota Hockey Schools and Sneep is one of his instructors.

Sometimes it’s nice to have a connection on the inside.

Toews Stays?

It will be a difficult decision that faces the top trio of U.S. college players in the coming month: whether to head to the NHL immediately or either start or continue college.

One guy with possibly the toughest decision is North Dakota’s Jonathan Toews, who was selected third overall by Chicago. As a freshman, Toews’ stock rose considerably, moving from number 10 to two in the International Scouting Service rankings. Much of that was attributed to a solid World Junior performance in which he helped lead Canada to the gold medal.

On Saturday, Toews said that he’s prepared to return to North Dakota, saying that though he’s confident in his game, he still has areas he’d like to improve.

North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol, similarly, says he expects Toews back.

“We’ve obviously discussed some thing [about his future],” said Hakstol, who made the trip to Vancouver to support Toews. “We’ll let him enjoy the day before we get into those sorts of things.

“I fully expect him to be back at North Dakota next year.”

Hakstol said that should Toews leave — and whether it’s this year or next, it seems inevitable that will happen — both he and North Dakota are ready to support him.

“That’s part of the business of hockey,” Hakstol said. “We take great pride in recruiting top players and having them have success while they’re at the University of North Dakota.

“When they’re ready and the development has gotten to a level where they’re prepared to take the next step, we’re there to support them and help them take that next step.”

Cheers and Jeers

One of the enjoyable moments of each year’s Draft is the roll call that begins the day. Though it may seem like an inane exercise, the roll call annually is the best barometer for what type of fans are in attendance.

The team that was the biggest victim of the boo-birds was Toronto, which Canadian rivalry alone makes sensible. Similarly unsurprising, the announcement of Calgary was met with a healthy rain of boos as well.

The biggest cheers, aside from host Vancouver, went to Stanley Cup champion Carolina and runner-up Edmonton.

Along that same line, the biggest show of support for a player was for Leland Irving, a Canadian-born goaltender selected by Calgary with the 26th overall pick. Irving had a crew of about 50 that exploded when he was selected. The Irving bunch, it appeared, are no strangers to ice rinks as they came complete with oversized noise makers and a variety of different hockey jerseys.

If a Tree Falls in the Forest…

So if no one sees the NHL Entry Draft, does it really count?

Surprisingly, Vancouver’s GM Place was extremely empty when the Entry Draft began. Less than half of the seats available in the venue were occupied, a surprise in a city that embraces hockey so well.

The fact that the temperatures were in the mid-80s on Saturday might have had something to do with it. According to the locals, this is the first nice weekend of summer that folks in Vancouver have enjoyed.

For the record, though, the last time this writer remembers an Entry Draft with such a small crowd (not counting last year’s, which was held impromptu after the lockout was settled) was the Toronto draft in 2002.