EL SEGUNDO, CA — The National Hockey League Entry Draft is one huge crapshoot in terms of teams landing prospects who will make it to the NHL level to stay, let alone big stars, even for those who are lucky enough to be first round picks.
For those who end up being selected in later rounds, the odds of making it to the NHL are much, much longer. Nevertheless, every so often, they not only make it to the NHL, but they thrive there.
The most notable cases in point among Kings draft picks (not including active NHL players) would be:
- Butch Goring, Center (fifth round, 51st overall, 1969)
- Billy Smith, Goaltender (fifth round, 59th overall, 1970)
- Dave Taylor, Right Wing (15th round, 210th overall, 1975)
- Mark Hardy, Defenseman (second round, 30th overall, 1979)
- Bernie Nicholls, Center (fourth round, 73rd overall, 1980)
- Kevin Stevens, Left Wing (sixth round, 108th overall, 1983)
- Luc Robitaille, Left Wing (ninth round, 171st overall, 1984)
- Rob Blake, Defenseman (fourth round, 70th overall, 1987)
- Alexei Zhitnik, Defenseman (fourth round, 81st overall, 1991)
While that is more than a handful of players who went on to become impact players in the NHL, including five who won the Stanley Cup with other teams, they are a small drop in a huge bucket of draft picks who have mostly disappeared into hockey oblivion.
Not to be discouraged, later round draft picks usually march on, working hard to beat the long, long odds against them, and the Kings’ 2011 picks are no exception.
The NHL runs in the blood of left wing prospect Joel Lowry, who was selected by the Kings in the fifth round (140th overall).
Indeed, he is the son of Calgary Flames assistant coach Dave Lowry, who scored 164 goals and added 187 assists for 351 points with 1,191 penalty minutes in 1,084 regular season games as a left wing with the Flames, Florida Panthers, St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks from 1985-86 to 2003-04.
“Not everyone has the opportunity to experience a lot of the stuff that I experienced while growing up,” said the 6-1, 180-pound native of St. Louis, Missouri. “Going to a lot of games, and being around a lot of NHL players when I was really young, [he got to] see how hard they work every day, watch a lot of games, and see how plays develop.”
Joel Lowry, 19, scored 24 goals and tallied 43 assists for 67 points in 42 regular season games with the Victoria Grizzlies of the British Columbia Hockey League last season. He also scored five goals and added twelve assists for 17 points in twelve playoff games.
One does not often hear of prospects coming from the BCHL, which is a Junior A league in Canada, not one of the three Major Junior leagues (Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and the Western Hockey League). As such, Lowry has certainly chosen a different path to the NHL, but his short-term goal was to play collegiate hockey in the United States.
“I didn’t make [the] Red Deer [Rebels of the WHL] as a 17-year-old, so I started looking at the college route,” he explained. “[Playing in the] BCHL was probably my best option in order to go that way.”
“I went [to Victoria] in my 18-year-old season,” he elaborated. “I had an ‘OK’ season (15 goals and 29 assists for 44 points in 57 regular season games; one goal and four assists for five points in six playoff games). Then, I went back last year, and ended up getting a commitment to Cornell [University in the East Coast Athletic Conference], so it worked out pretty well for me.”
At the Kings’ 2011 Development Camp for their young prospects, held in July, Joel Lowry got a taste of what’s ahead, as he had a bit of difficulty adjusting to the level of play in the scrimmages.
“The speed is definitely pretty high,” he said. “You don’t have too much time out there to make a play.”
But one or two scrimmages during a summer development camp, especially the first one for a young prospect, does not mean a whole lot, in the grand scheme of things. What is far more important is what they take from it, and, like the other prospects at the camp, Joel Lowry had it drilled into him that he must get stronger and improve his conditioning.
“I have to make sure that I’m heading to campus in the best shape possible, skating-wise, and in the gym as well,” he noted. “I’ll be working out every day, and skating every day to get into the best shape possible.”
At the Development Camp, left wing prospect Michael Schumacher, selected in the seventh round (200th overall), seemed to be in awe of his new surroundings.
“I’ve never been [in North America] before,” said the 6-3, 198-pound native of Örnsköldsvik, Sweden. “It’s been great, [but] I haven’t seen much of LA. The rink, the hotel are all around here.”
Schumacher, 18, comes from a town that is a hockey hotbed.
“It’s an amazing hockey town,” said Schumacher, who played for Frolunda HC of the SuperElit, Sweden’s top junior league. “Everyone there loves hockey. It’s a special feeling to win a hockey game there.”
Given that retired NHL superstars Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund, along with current NHL stars, Canucks forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin, all came from or played in the same town as Schumacher, it is no wonder that Örnsköldsvik is such a big hockey town.
“Peter Forsberg [is his favorite player], said Schumacher. “He’s a big idol of mine. Actually, I was born in Örnsköldsvik, where he was playing.”
“The NHL is a special thing,” added Schumacher. “I want to see it right now. Almost 20,000 watching each game. It’s amazing. Where I live now, we get 10,000 or 11,000 for each game.”
Schumacher, who towered over the members of the local media during his interview, will need to add muscle to his frame if he hopes to be a power forward at the NHL level. Nevertheless, that is the game he plays.
“I would describe myself as a power forward,” he said. “But I can score goals, too, make plays, go hard to the net.”
Schumacher is expected to cross the Atlantic this season to play in the OHL, where the Owen Sound Attack selected him with their first pick (40th overall) in the 2011 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.
“North American [hockey] is different from in Sweden,” he explained. “Much tighter games, more speed, more people watching the games—everyone loves hockey in Canada. It will be a big experience for me to play in Canada.”
“I’m just going to play my game, go hard every game, that’s all.”
Third round (80th overall) selection, center Andy Andreoff, certainly did his best to get noticed during the Development Camp scrimmages, throwing his body around and trying to stir things up a bit with some chippy play.
“I play with a little edge,” said the 6-1, 198-pound native of Pickering, Ontario. “I was trying to throw a couple of hits to get the guys going.”
“I’m trying to show everything I can do,” added Andreoff, 20. “Obviously, they like how I play, so I’m just trying to do it out here now. It’s a little different, but we’ll see how it goes the rest of the week.”
As he alluded to, Kings scouts saw something in Andreoff, who had more than one interview with them prior to the draft. Despite that, he had no idea that they would select him.
“I had a couple of interviews with them, [but] they never told me that I would be picked or anything,” he said. “I was pretty happy that I got picked by them, because I liked the scouts that I [met with].”
What got him noticed was, aside from his ability to play a physical brand of hockey, was a big improvement in his offensive numbers last season with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, when he scored 33 goals and added 42 assists for 75 points with a +34 plus/minus rating and 108 penalty minutes in 66 regular season games. He also tallied three goals and contributed eight assists for eleven points with a +3 rating and 16 penalty minutes in ten playoff games.
Andreoff’s regular season numbers were a far cry from the 15 goals and 33 assists for 48 points with a -18 rating and 70 penalty minutes in 2009-10, not to mention that he failed to get on the scoresheet at all in nine playoff games that year.
As with all players, confidence was key.
“I think my confidence [increased] a little bit,” Andreoff explained. “My coach gave me a bunch of chances, and I capitalized on [them].”
“We had a great team, and we made the playoffs this year—we had a good run through the playoffs,” Andreoff elaborated. “I think a little bit of everything helped me.”
Off-season work, including time spent with a Generals alumnus, played into the equation as well.
“Over the summer, I was working pretty hard on my skating, puck protection, stick handling, shooting,” said Andreoff. “That helped out during the season.”
“Practicing with [current New York Islanders and former Generals center] John Tavares helped me a little bit,” added Andreoff. “Little moves that he has, the way he shoots—just the little things [helped him].”
Although Tavares helped him train, Andreoff looks to another NHL star as a role model.
“[He patterns his game after Flames star winger Jarome] Iginla, just because he’s an all-around player,” said Andreoff. “He’s a leader, he can hit, score, pass, fight, everything.”
Not a bad choice as a role model, to be sure.
Matt Reitz, who covers the NHL for NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk, and is the Editor-In-Chief of View From My Seats, contributed to this story.
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