June 25, 2011
There is a country that wants Matt Petgrave, but there was no team for him this Saturday.
Many junior hockey players dream of hearing their name called at the NHL draft, but relatively few realize it. Each year, some well-meaning media type will implore those who don't have a strong shot of being taken to be somewhere else —any place else — on the last weekend in June. The message — oh, the sweet optimism of youth — is often unheeded. It is not the end of the world, though. As Puck Daddy's Justin Bourne, a former pro hockey player, noted, "You're better to not be picked than go late in the draft. Just limits you to one organization, and you're behind just as many people." In other words, better to be lower in the prospect pecking order of 30 potential NHL organizations than one that has the player's rights for the next two years.
That is the upshot for a player such as Petgrave (pictured). The rushing defenceman has an invitation to Hockey Canada's world junior team summer camp in August, yet for the second year in a row, he was bypassed by all 30 NHL teams. Quite the juxtaposition, although it's not the end of the world. Each player who had expected to be drafted Saturday and was not should take that to heart. In the spirit of that, here is one stab at an all-undrafted team from the Canadian Hockey League.
Forwards: Scott Oke, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL); Brent Benson, Saskatoon Blades (WHL); Colin Smith, Kamloops Blazers (WHL).
Oke has a championship ring from the MasterCard Memorial Cup and the unwanted distinction of being the highest-ranked skater on NHL Central Scouting's North American list (44th) who was not selected. The St. Lambert, Que., native played out of position in his first full major junior season since Saint John's depth pushed him to the fourth line. That didn't help his profile any, but many players get drafted even if their ice time is limited.
Three years ago, Benson was the sixth overall pick in a WHL bantam draft, not far behind newly minted NHL first-rounders Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Duncan Siemens and Mark McNeill. The Weyburn, Sask., native never seemed to get the bump that would put him in the draft conversation, especially since the Blades were an older team with world junior forwards Brayden Schenn and Curtis Hamilton. Chalk this up to questions about consistency or about a player having one NHL-worthy attribute. Benson, who had 14 goals and 44 points in 65 games for the Blades without benefit of being on a scoring line, likely was on some team's board, but never at the top of it at the right moment.
Smith sticks out since he played for Canada in the IIHF world under-18 championship in April, albeit when several of his peers were still engaged in league playoffs. The Edmonton native had 50 points as a 17-year-old on a bad Blazers team. Each year, though, players with a two-way, team-oriented game get bypassed for lacking the physical specs, which might apply to Smith since he's 5-foot-10 and 162 pounds.
Defence: Matt Petgrave, Owen Sound Attack (OHL) and Gabriel Bourret, Saint John Sea Dogs/Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)
Petgrave's past few months have included scoring a series-turning overtime goal that started his Owen Sound Attack toward winning the Ontario Hockey League title and the Hockey Canada invite. The Brampton, Ont., native is a high-risk, high-reward defenceman and players of that ilk often face the most doubts, even those with surnames such as Orr and Coffey. It is quite something that Petgrave (eight goals, 37 points in 61 games) can be a big piece of a championship team and be on Hockey Canada's radar but go undrafted. Then again, another offensive defenceman in his second year of draft eligibility, Spokane's Brenden Kichton, had twice as many points as Petgrave (81) and lasted until the fifth round.
Bourret, not unlike his teammate Oke, evidently did not get enough of a bounce from being part of the Saint John juggernaut. The 18-year-old was the defence mate of Montreal Canadiens first-rounder Nathan Beaulieu for much of the season, including the playoff run and was ranked 92nd among North American-based skaters by NHL Central Scouting. He struggled at the Memorial Cup, though. It might have been a red flag that the Sea Dogs traded him to Chicoutimi even though standout defencemen Simon Després and Eric Gélinas are turning pro.
Goaltender: Michael Houser, London Knights (OHL)
Houser, who is from Wexford, Pa., was one thought well enough of by USA Hockey that they had him try out for the world junior squad. The 18-year-old has hardly regressed, given that he was London's best player when they extended Owen Sound to six games in the first round of the OHL playoffs. He had a 3.32 goals-against average and .904 save percentage behind a young, retooling eighth-place team
Howser, born Sept. 13, 1992, made the cutoff for the 2010 draft by two days. One wonders how the perception of him would have changed if he had been born a week later.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: CHL Images).