Above the Glass
by Samantha on 06/16/12 at 01:37 PM ET
The NHL Entry Draft looks to keep the off-season exciting for us out here in the WHL, where the league is well represented in this year’s Central Scouting rankings. Among the players expected to go highly are a number of defensemen, including Everett Silvertips Captain Ryan Murray and Portland Winterhawk Derrick Pouliot. But there is also a less exciting flip side to draft excitement: some of the best players in the world may never be drafted, never play in the NHL even if they are, or not have the career that was expected of them. The reasons range from injury to roster needs to the things like discipline, professionalism, courtesy to fans and media, and off-ice conduct. Which got me to thinking, what if the Central Scouting Rankings included the X Factors that can determine a player’s readiness and ability to handle the next step in their careers? Would things like having a good hockey name, using Twitter responsibly and respecting what Ty Rattie calls the 7th man affect whether a player will be drafted and make it in the NHL?
For fans, we love our favorite players for many reasons and not all of them involve highlight reel goals or saves or how many autographs they sign for us. They include things like fan appreciation, community commitment, and just generally being good guys who respect and love the sport, our team and our town. Therefore, I have come up with a few extra things to consider when plotting out a mock draft.
What’s in a name? Everything if you’re a hockey player. In addition to hockey birthdays, I firmly believe that a good hockey name is a key to success. These include the standards you will find on almost any junior roster: Branden, Brendan, Braeden, Jordan, Josh, Riley, Chase, Taylor, Ryan, Brett, Brad, and Keegan. And some players were just named to play hockey, such as:
Wheaton King - Sent down by the Brandon Wheat Kings last season; a missed marketing opportunity, if you ask me.
Steen Cooper: A Winterhawk prospect who told me his favorite part about Portland was, and I quote, “the weather. It’s really great.”
And of course, the best hockey name of all time, former Kootenay Ice center Steele Boomer, who had a taxidermied owl named after him by a local elementary school. Top that. I dare you.
This year, the Winterhawks will dispatch five first-time candidates with good hockey names to the draft: Derrick Pouliot, Josh Hanson, Brendan Leipsic, Taylor Leier and Joey Baker. Judging only by their names, it looks to be a good draft year for the Hawks.
Second time’s a charm. Also in the running this year is Troy Rutkowski, a top-ranked defenseman who was drafted in 2010 by the Colorado Avalanche but who was not signed by this year’s June 1 deadline. He is eligible to re-enter the draft this year. Here in the junior leagues, I’d call that a rookie mistake by the Avs. I’m sure the reason was a good one in their minds, which I respect. But for my part, I have this to say: Colorado’s loss is another team’s gain. Troy stepped up his game in the playoffs this year, and has shown a vast improvement in leadership skills over the past season. Any team that has the good sense to take a second look will get the return on their investment. Besides, the Winterhawks have a pretty good record with second chances at the draft: Riley Boychuk was drafted 208th by the Sabres in 2010 after missing his original draft year due to injuries and surgery that reduced his playing time. Luke Walker was also drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 2010, having not been drafted in his original draft year. I’m confident someone will get wise and choose Troy; it’s NHL money well-spent.
A good nickname helps too. In Portland Derrick is also known affectionately as Pooh Bear, a nickname that he has told me himself is his favorite. Troy’s is Rutter, which he uses to good advantage in his Twitter handle. Back in the day before he graduated to the NHL, we used to call Ryan Johansen “The Johan.” That is thanks to Andy Kemper, who declared “You don’t mess with the Johan” on the radio every time Ryan scored. And of course, there’s El Nino (Nino Niederreiter). Although their NHL teams have yet to make the most of their talents, it’s worth noting that Ryan and Nino went 4th and 5th overall in the 2010 Entry Draft. I rest my case.
Get a hobby. Preferably one that isn’t golf. One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of Taylor Leier and Joey Baker is that they have interests and hobbies that do not involve the number one off-ice hobby of most players: golf. Joey wants to be a fireman if he doesn’t end up playing hockey, and Taylor is in Europe gearing up to play on Canada’s Under-18 Ball Hockey team in the World Championships. His various interests are one among many reasons why I would look for Taylor to go much higher in this year’s draft than his current ranking would imply.
Tweet This, Not That. Players on social media is good on paper, but a scary proposition in reality. For fans, it’s an inside track to players’ lives, but for NHL public relations execs, it’s heartburn, premature gray hair and more lines on their faces. I can assure you that the Portland Winterhawks will make excellent NHL superstars one day, and one reason is their responsible use of Twitter. Take Pittsburgh Penguin Joe Morrow for example. His notable Tweets include a Happy Birthday shout out to his dad, declaring that his mother was his Valentine this year and my very favorite Winterhawk Tweet ever: “Whoever wrote “The sun will come out tomorrow never lived in Portland. Idiot.” #rowrowrowyourboat #bringoutthefloodpants. I love my town, but even diehard Portlanders reach a point every winter where we’ve had enough of our weather. This Tweet was an honest and hilarious representation of what it means to live here year round. The most common use of Twitter among WHL players is to take lighthearted chirps at each other, give shout outs to their family and to declare that their fans are the best in the league. So you can see that NHL public relations types have nothing to worry about. For the most part, the NHL’s future are really just big teddy bears underneath it all who love their families, their teammates and their fans. Speaking of which:
Respect the 7th Man. Ty Rattie certainly does and he just had a career year in his third junior season. The 7th man is how Ty refers to fans and our importance to the team’s success. Even the Edmonton Oil Kings told local media they’d never seen or heard anything like us. The Dub is special when it comes to fans, and not just in Portland. It’s a league-wide universal truth. And if the players’ Tweets are any sign, the respect is mutual. That’s how I know that the Winterhawks and other WHL prospects will come to the NHL bearing the highest of respect for fans.
P.S.: In all seriousness, let me just take this opportunity to cast my personal vote for Ryan Murray as the number one overall pick. He’s one of my favorite non-Winterhawk players here in the Dub; a natural leader and outstanding all around player that any other team would be lucky to have on their roster. As I’ve stated, look for Taylor Leier to go higher than expected. And finally, regarding the Winterhawks’ first round contender, I agree with the mock drafts that put Pooh Bear somewhere between 10 and 15.
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About Above the Glass
Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.
I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.
Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass