California could be looking at a bumper NHL draft crop
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If the projections and rankings are correct, the 2017 NHL Draft could be the most prolific yet for California hockey players.
It’s not out of the question that half a dozen prospects with ties to the state could be selected June 23-24 in Chicago. The previous high in any draft was five, which has occurred three times, most recently in 2013.
The group includes three members of the LA Selects’ 2012 Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament champions – forwards Ivan Lodnia and Brannon McManus and defenseman Jack St. Ivany – all 1999 birth years.
Lodnia (pictured), who played for the Selects as well as for his father Konstantin at KHS Ice Arena until 2012, is the highest rated Californian, 36th among North American skaters in the final NHL Central Scouting Service (CSS) rankings. He’s also one of the youngest players in the draft pool – he turns 18 on Aug. 31.
“He has unbelievable skills,” said an NHL scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “You can tell he’s well coached in power skating, stickhandling and shooting. He’s yet to put it all together on a consistent basis.”
The 5-foot-10, 182-pound right wing had 24 goals in a third-line role for the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Erie Otters during the regular season.
“His role has been limited because he’s on a loaded team, but 24 goals stands out. The question is what he does when he is the man? He is a very good talent.”
St. Ivany, a former Select and LA Jr. King, checks in at No. 125 in the final CSS rankings. The 6-foot-2, 197-pounder played well in his first season with Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League (USHL). A rival coach praised the Yale University (ECAC Hockey) commit’s well-rounded game, particularly his hockey sense, and said it’s unusual for a 17-year-old of any sort, much less a defenseman, to play as well as a rookie as St. Ivany did.
McManus, like St. Ivany, won’t turn 18 until after the draft, but he is in his second USHL season. The 5-10, 179-pounder (ranked 191st) was traded to Clark Cup finalist Chicago last fall and had 22 goals and 44 points through the conference finals.
Forward Sasha Chmelevski, who also played for Konstantin Lodnia as well as for the Selects and the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, is rated 43rd. The 6-foot, 190-pounder played this past season with Ottawa in the OHL, getting 47 points (23 goals).
“He is a lot like Lodnia – very good skills, understanding of the game and vision and his release is quick and accurate,” the scout said. “I’m not sure he’s willing to play in the tough areas yet, but if you give him space, he can score.”
Center Patrick Khodorenko checks in at 106th, and the late ’98 birth year had 18 points during his first NCAA season at Michigan State University (Big Ten). The 6-foot, 207-pounder played for the Oakland Bears, Santa Clara Blackhawks, San Jose Jr. Sharks and KHS as well as the LA Selects. He played two seasons for the U.S. National Team Development program.
“His hockey sense and vision are very good but he’s an awkward skater,” the scout said. “I’m waiting for him to emerge. He was clearly their best player, but his production wasn’t good. He had no supporting cast. I like him, but I worry about his production.
“All of these guys you mentioned will get drafted.”
Two players who played Midget hockey for the Jr. Kings also are ranked. Center-left wing Kailer Yamamoto of the Spokane Chiefs is ranked 17th, and center Josh Wilkins of Providence College (Hockey East) is 160th.
The 5-8, 173-pound Yamamoto is a late ’98 who was one of the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) most prolific scorers, piling up 99 points (42 goals) in 65 games. He has 237 points (87 goals) in 202 WHL games.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Wilkins (a ’97) made a strong first impression in Division I hockey, putting up 31 points (13 goals) in 39 games for an NCAA tournament team.
Former Jr. Kings forward Jason Robertson, now with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, could be a first-round pick this weekend.
— Chris Bayee