Thu Jun 21 03:35pm EDT
Being out of sight won't mean out of mind on Friday at the NHL draft.
Just ask Brett Connolly and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Two seasons ago, the current Bolts forward was a wild card in the lead-up to the NHL draft after having his draft year truncated to 16 games by hip surgery. He still went No. 6 overall and became a NHL regular within one season.
That was a harbinger for this season's Injury Draft. Several blue-chippers sustained injuries that required surgery. An injury can affect the draft stock of a player there's doubt about. The likes of Kitchener Rangers centre Matia Marcantuoni (shoulder surgery) or Halifax Mooseheads wing Martin Frk, whose season was torn asunder by a head injury that kept him out three months, could make up for later after being drafted. With top players, though, scouts typically say teams usually have a good enough read on an injured player by the start of his draft season that they can make an educated guess on his progress.
That seems truest with the likes of centre Alex Galchenyuk and defenders Morgan Rielly and Slater Koekkoek. At-large ranking services and mock drafters might tend to drop a player who was injured, since they had little to go off. All it takes is one team to like a player despite an injury history in favour of a similar player who was healthy. Friday's first round has three of the most intriguing injury-affected prospects since Connolly.
Alex Galchenyuk, Sarnia Sting (OHL) — Plenty of apposite watchers, from HockeyProspect.com through Shane Malloy, have extrapolated that Galchenyuk has a higher ceiling than Sting teammate Nail Yakupov, even as they concede the latter has a shot at going No. 1 on Friday in Pittsburgh.
The torn ACL that cost Galchenyuk nearly the entire season (coincidentally, he had the same injury as NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin, so perhaps that's a good omen for him) didn't take away from his drive or his first-class vision on the ice. He started the season winning the fastest skater competition at the NHL research, development and orientation camp and ended it by having the strongest Wingate test during the combine 9 1/2 months later.
What's the difference for Galchenyuk? It probably boils down to going no worse than No. 5 overall.
Morgan Rielly, Moose Jaw Warriors — Rielly had the same injury and Galchenyuk, so the song can be the same. It didn't hurt his hockey IQ. The Warriors defenceman who's been described as having "million dollar legs" is still someone who could run a WHL power play as a rookie.
Rielly's injury has required leaving a lot of leeway with predictions; one feature story stated he could go anywhere from fifth to 15th. There are so many highly touted defencemen in this draft that his injury could tip the scales for some teams between he and a comparable player. Point being, though, it hasn't driven down his stock.
The impact of Rielly's injury might have more to do with his NHL arrival date than his draft slot. Cam Fowler showed two seasons ago that a defenceman taken outside the first 10 picks can still advance quickly to the NHL. As Reilly put it: "I understand your career isn't made on draft day, your career is made down the road, that you have to prove yourself no matter what."
Slater Koekkoek, Peterborough Petes — Certain players are sometimes inevitably cross-referenced with another. It's hard not to think of Koekkoek without thinking of the Ottawa 67's Cody Ceci. They play on long-time rival teams and Ceci played minor hockey in Peterborough before being drafted by Ottawa, while Koekkoek grew up near Ottawa before being drafted by Peterborough.
Koekkoek's stock was rising before he dislocated his shoulder in late November. At that point, he probably was a more complete defensive defenceman than Ceci, with a high enough hockey IQ to be effective on the offensive end. Koekkoek had his surgery while Ceci, playing for a higher-profile team, became talked up as a top 10 pick. Koekkoek is in the 15-20 range, although one media chain's mock draft sees him going No. 26 overall to the Vancouver Canucks.
Is that the out-of-sight factor? Find out Friday night.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.