July 16, 2013

From NEHJ: Erne, Sanford lead New England crop

By Kirk Luedeke

Adam Erne (North Branford, Conn.) was selected 33rd overall by the Lightning. (Getty Images)

NEWARK, N.J. — Although projected not as deep as a year ago when 12 New England players went off the board in Pittsburgh, 11 regional prospects had their names called, with forward Adam Erne the first selection at 33rd overall to Tampa Bay in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft here June 30.

As was the case a year ago when the Lightning picked Brian Hart (Cumberland, Maine) in the second round, Steve Yzerman and company went back to New England for Erne, a big-bodied power winger who dropped just out of the first round after a sluggish second half with the Quebec Remparts.

“We thought the New England kids were very good this year,” said Boston Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning after the draft. “We had our sights on a couple of other kids but they ended up going to other teams. It was a good crop for New England overall.”

Forward Zach Sanford (Auburn, N.H.) was one of the most impressive risers in this deep and talented group. The Granite State product got off to a slow start with the Middlesex Islanders of the EJHL before throwing his game into high gear in the season’s second half. Although pretty raw in his development, Boston College commit Sanford has the natural size and pure talent to be a force in a few years. The Washington Capitals used the final selection of the second round (61st overall) after acquiring it from Winnipeg (via Chicago) to tab the USHL-bound forward.

“A big part of my stock rising was just stepping up in leagues,” Sanford said. “I played just public high school before going over to the Islanders in the EJ, and even there I didn’t have much success at first. But, I think just talking with Coach (Sean) Tremblay and paying attention to the little things brought me more success.”

A pair of rugged wingers in U.S. National Team product John Hayden (Greenwich, Conn.) and  Noble and Greenough’s Miles Wood (Manchester, Mass.), were the next to go off the board — Hayden to the Blackhawks in the third round, and Wood going in the fourth to the draft host Devils at 100 overall.

After Ryan Segalla (Rockland, Mass., 119th) and Ryan Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass., 120th) closed out the fourth round for New England, the run on New Englanders picked up. The Buffalo Sabres continued their quest to get bigger and tougher with the selection of Selects Academy captain and big hitter Anthony Florentino (West Roxbury, Mass.), who is the area’s biggest hitter. A pair of older second- and third-time draft eligibles also were acquired in Tim Harrison (Duxbury, Mass.) and Chris Leblanc (Winthrop, Mass.).

In the later rounds, NEHJ favorites like Brian Pinho (North Andover, Mass.) and Wiley Sherman (Greenwich, Conn.) heard their names called as well, with Sherman (Bruins) and Pinho (Capitals) going in the sixth round. The New England picks also included the Hartford, Conn.-born but Ohio-raised Cole Cassels, whose father, Andrew, played for the Whalers in the third round to Vancouver.

Overall, while this group of players might lack name recognition associated with key regions like Ontario, Quebec and overseas in Sweden and Finland, the New England delegation was well-represented in the Garden State. All are still works in progress, but after a disappointing group in 2011, the region has bounced back with two consecutive strong drafts.

2014 could be another solid, if unspectacular year for New England NHL hopefuls, but the best might be yet to come in 2015, when Noah Hanifin (Norwood, Mass.), Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.), and a host of other quality young area prospects will be stepping onto the big stage. Hanifin might be the best area prospect to hit the scene since the mid-1980s when New England produced the likes of Brian Leetch (Cheshire, Conn.), Jeremy Roenick (Marshfield, Mass.) and Tony Amonte (Hingham, Mass.).

2013 NEW ENGLAND DRAFT selections at a glance


Hometown: North Branford, Conn.

Selected: Second round (33rd overall)

NHL team: Tampa Bay Lightning

The skinny: A budding power forward who might not have any single high-end skill or tool, he nonetheless comes together in a highly appealing package.

A powerful skater who protects the puck well and goes hard to the net, Erne switched gears from Boston University to play for Patrick Roy and the Quebec Remparts in major junior.

There are whispers about his conditioning and commitment, but let’s face it — this kid was simply the best New England prospect all year and made sense to be a top-round pick. He can now go out and prove the critics wrong after the Lightning got good value on him in the early second round.

Quotable: “I really didn’t know I was going to be drafted by the Lightning. It was up in the air. Anyone could have (taken) me. I’m just happy to be selected by them.” — Erne



Hometown: Auburn, N.H.

Selected: Second round (61st overall)

NHL team: Washington Capitals

The skinny: Another power type of player up front, Sanford does not have a lot of snarl in his game, but with his 6-foot-3 height and rangy stride, he covers a lot of ground and backs defenders up. He has a bullet shot and the vision to make plays from the wing or in the middle at center.

His Middlesex coaches say that he’s raw, but focused and dedicated. After struggling to adapt to the EJHL’s tempo on the heels of dominating the N.H. high school competition, he didn’t give up but adjusted his game and broke out when it mattered most. Bigger things are in store for him as a pick-and-stash prospect for the Caps.

Quotable: “My strength is protecting the puck and working down low, but my big weakness was my defense, so I’m trying to work on that because in high school I didn’t have to pay much attention to it … the competition wasn’t that great.” — Sanford



Hometown: Greenwich, Conn.

Selected: Third round (74th overall)

NHL team: Chicago Blackhawks

The skinny: The most physically advanced power forward prospect of the entire group, the Yale-bound Hayden doesn’t quite come with the offensive flash. A banger who finishes his checks and is tough to play against, quicker feet and initial burst would help his stock immeasurably. Every other skill Hayden possesses is NHL-caliber and he certainly has the look of a “safe” pick in terms of a guy who will reach the show and play for a long time because he’s honest, industrious and brings that big frame and physicality. The question for Hayden remains on the upside and where he projects in the NHL, but the Blackhawks added some real beef to their system as reigning Cup champs. Hayden was born in Chicago before moving to Colorado and Connecticut, so he has some Windy City roots to make the story even better.

Quotable: “I came in with a pretty open mind. Some had me going in the second round, some in the third, but it’s an amazing feeling to get picked by the Blackhawks.” — Hayden



Hometown: Manchester, Mass.

Selected: Fourth round (100th overall)

NHL team: New Jersey Devils

The skinny: NEHJ sleeper and physical forward has NHL bloodlines (dad, former Yale star Randy Wood, played more than 700 big-league games) and interesting long-term power potential. Underrated and under the radar, Wood was quietly pursued by several NHL clubs, landing with the Devils at a surprisingly high fourth-round position.



Hometown: Rockland, Mass.

Selected: Fourth round (119th overall)

NHL team: Pittsburgh Penguins

The skinny: Big, physical defenseman is headed to UConn and Hockey East and has been a quiet point of emphasis all season for NHL scouts.

Plays a solid all-around game and helped lead the Salisbury Crimson Knights to the 2013 prep title. The Penguins obviously liked his snarl and long-term potential, so he’ll continue to physically mature and likely log a lot of minutes in a new Hockey East program.



Hometown: North Reading, Mass.

Selected: Fourth round (120th overall)

NHL team: Boston Bruins

The skinny: Fitzgerald is a late ’94 who has been long on the local radar because of his high-end hockey sense and his bloodlines — he’s the son of longtime NHLer and current Pittsburgh assistant to GM Tom Fitzgerald, and is Keith Tkachuk’s second cousin.

Although he does not possess ideal size or speed, the younger Fitzgerald is one of the most instinctive players in the draft class and was sandbagged by nagging injuries that prevented him from lighting it up in the EJHL. Another Boston College recruit, he has time to get stronger and continue building his confidence in all zones. It was a dream selection, as he watched from afar a year ago as his close friend and minor hockey teammate Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.) was picked by the Bruins.

Quotable: “I’m a smart player who makes a lot of good plays and makes the kids around him better. I like to think I played all 200 feet of the ice and (am) a good utility player you can
toss out there.” — Fitzgerald



Hometown: West Roxbury, Mass.

Selected: Fifth round (143rd overall)

NHL team: Buffalo Sabres

The skinny: Big-hitting rearguard is one nasty opponent who brings the most intimidating physical package of the bunch. A good straight-line skater who could stand to improve his lateral quickness, Florentino nonetheless is an impressive all-around defender who showed flashes of puck-moving skill and finish while punishing opponents in the open ice and in front of his own net.

The Providence College recruit was all over the map in terms of where teams saw him coming into the draft, but this is good value for a longer-term prospect who might need to process the game a little faster before he’s ready for the big time. The Buffalo Sabres added a lot of snarl in this draft class, and Florentino is right near the top of that added toughness, even if he is a few years away from being ready to compete for an NHL job.



Hometown: Greenwich, Conn.

Selected: Fifth round (150th overall)

NHL team: Boston Bruins

The skinny: This massive rearguard (6-foot-6) is only 18 and already skates well with fluid footwork and the wingspan of a condor. At present, he looks like more of a shutdown player with not a lot of offensive upside, but when you’re this big and mobile at such a young age, teams will call your number.

Bound for Harvard, Sherman will be an interesting project to keep an eye on as he continues to add weight to his frame and develops better positional awareness in his own end. If he adds more of a puck-moving element to his game, he’ll likely play in the big show one day.

Quotable: “I’m a big, stay-at-home defender. I have a big reach so it’s hard for kids to go around me, so I just try to keep things simple and play my defensive game.” — Sherman



Hometown: Duxbury, Mass.

Selected: Sixth round (157th overall)

NHL team: Calgary Flames

The skinny: 1994-born winger was not on the radar, picked in his second year of eligibility by the Flames. Rugged forward is Colgate-bound and plays an effective up-and-down-the-wings game for Dan Donato’s Dexter squad.



Hometown: Winthrop, Mass.

Selected: Sixth round (161st overall)

NHL team: Ottawa Senators

The skinny: This late-bloomer with a big 6-foot-3 frame was picked up in his third year of draft eligibility by the Sens out of the South Shore Kings program. Merrimack College-bound player is a raw project but will be an intriguing follow in Hockey East.



Hometown: North Andover, Mass.

Selected: Sixth round (174th overall)

NHL team: Washington Capitals

The skinny: The St. John’s Prep captain is skilled and imaginative. He did not play against the best competition but always gave 100 percent and has a fine reputation as a top character player and leader. Lacrosse standout might go to the USHL to further hone and refine his game before he lands at Providence College in 2014. The Caps got an interesting long-term option and Pinho became the third consecutive player to be drafted out of the Eagles program behind Colin Blackwell (North Andover, Mass.) and Sam Kurker (Reading, Mass.).

Twitter: @kluedeke29
Email: kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com