Monday, June 26, 2006
Four Cats called in NHL draft
by JIM SWANSON, Citizen Sports Editor
What may look at first as a feather in the cap of the Prince George Cougars could turn into a significant body blow for next season’s team.
The Cougars equalled a record for number of players selected in the NHL draft — four, with Ty Wishart, Jesse Dudas, Eric Hunter and the somewhat surprising inclusion of Evan Fuller, who had two goals last winter — but may have lost the team’s heart and soul in the process.
Hunter, last year’s scoring leader with 40 goals, and a good bet to be team captain if he returns, took a step toward becoming an ex-Cougar when the 20-year-old-to-be was chosen in the sixth round by the New York Rangers on Saturday.
Far from pushing the panic button, Cougars general manager Dallas Thompson was pleased to see nearly 20 per cent of last season’s roster prized by NHL clubs.
“We knew Eric was going to be drafted, so now it’s up to him, his agent and the Rangers,” said Thompson. “It’s a process that’s going to take a little while and we have to wait for it to play out.
“It was a really good day for our organization. Nothing was really surprising, we knew Wishart was going to go high and that Dudas and Hunter had really good chances. Fuller topped it off for us at the end. A good part of it is that we had a good team last year, and that always helps the players individually when the team does well. Plyaing Vancouver in the first round in a very intense round with a lot of exposure didn’t hurt at all.”
Wishart went 16th overall to the San Jose Sharks, Dudas was taken in the sixth round (159th overall) by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Hunter became Rangers property in the sixth round (174th overall), and Fuller was nabbed by the Vancouver Canucks in the seventh round (197th overall).
Twice before, the Prince George version of the Cougars has had a quartet called on draft day, the most recent time being 2001 — Dan Hamhuis in the first round, Billy Thompson in the fifth, and Dan Baum and Derek Boogaard in the seventh. In 1998, NHL teams beckoned Blair Betts and Tyler Bouck in the second round, Scott Myers in the fourth, and Trent Hunter in the sixth.
Having four players chosen helps the Cougars financially through draft money NHL teams pay to the major junior clubs they raid, but Thompson said that only evens out over time.
“It’s not a whole bunch of money, and basically we’re just recovering some of the stuff we’ve put in to get releases along the way,” said Thompson. “There’s a formula, and I don’t even know what it is. For us, we’re most proud of the guys for being drafted.”
Next up for the Cougars is Wednesday’s CHL import draft. Thompson will select two players. For more on that, see Tuesday’s Citizen.