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StarPhoenix article (Prospects feel the pressure)

June 3 2012 at 7:42 AM
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N. W. Bruin  (Login NW_Bruin_GM)


Response to Leader-Post article (Pats prospects go camping at annual camp)

 
Prospects feel the pressure

By Daniel Nugent-bowman, The StarPhoenix

June 2, 2012

June has long been perceived as the most stressful month for many NHL prospects. And some of the Saskatoon Blades' best players are probably coming to understand that for different reasons. Right now, Blades defenceman Dalton Thrower, centre Lukas Sutter and goaltender Andrey Makarov are finishing off a gruelling week of physical testing and interviews at the NHL combine in Toronto.

It's an event meant to give the top dogs on each of the 30 NHL clubs one last chance to analyze - and one last chance to nitpick - the players available for the 2012 draft, which goes June 22 and 23 in Pittsburgh.

On the other side of the coin is Saskatoon rightwinger Josh Nicholls.

Nicholls has already been drafted once before with the Toronto Maple Leafs nabbing him as a seventh-round pick in 2010. However, the Tsawwassen, B.C., native didn't sign a contract with the Leafs before the league's June 1 deadline for teams to sign their 2010 draft choices.

He is now eligible to be picked in the draft for a second time. But given that amateur scouts and general managers have been monitoring this year's draft class throughout the season, Nicholls won't be at the front of their minds later this month.

Instead, it's players like Thrower who will be getting most of the attention.

The North Vancouver product rocketed up the draft rankings at the midway point of the season. After a slow start, Thrower was named CHL player of the week on Jan. 3 following a stretch that saw him record 11 points in four games.

While it took several injuries for Thrower to get an invitation to the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospect Game in February, he wound up finishing eighth in scoring among WHL defenceman with 54 points. He was also paired with captain Duncan Siemens in a shutdown role.

Thrower is now a consensus late first-round pick, but could slide down to the second round. Players selected in that range are usually quickly signed by the teams that draft them. For instance, all five WHL players that were selected in the first round last year have been inked to NHL contracts - including Siemens.

For players like Sutter and Makarov, the draft is much more of a wild card.

Sutter was pegged as a second-round pick in the NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, released April 9, but other reports have been going in the middle of the draft. Makarov, who at 19 years old could have been selected last year, is seventh best goaltender available - according to NHL Central Scouting - but likely will have to wait a while to hear his name called.

Of course, as Nicholls experienced, a late-draft selection doesn't guarantee a NHL contract.

But, as Nicholls could soon find out too, it doesn't necessarily close the door either.

The 20-year-old winger saw former teammate Darian Dziurzynski get selected by the Phoenix Coyotes in the fifth round of last year's draft at the same age.

He also likely noticed good friend Adam Morrison ink a deal with the Boston Bruins in February while in the midst of a solid campaign with the Vancouver Giants.

All seemed lost for the former Blades netminder when he was released by the Philadelphia Flyers two years after they picked him in the third round of the 2009 draft.

So while June seems like a tense time for many junior hockey players, it doesn't have to be.

A lot can be gained at this time of year as pre-draft interviews often led to draft-day jerseys and baseball caps, which can turn into eventual lucrative contracts and promising futures.

But for those that don't get much attention, fear not. The opportunity is still there for them to do their talking on the ice.

dnugent-bowman@ thestarphoenix.com

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