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Building through the Draft

by John Peterson

 

Each year since the Austin Bruins became a franchise in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) in 2010, the team’s successes have reached new heights. In the Bruins’ fourth season, those improvements culminated with a trip to the Robertson Cup Finals in 2014.

Along with coaching and development during the season, much of the franchise’s on-ice success can be credited to the recruiting efforts year-round. Tuesday marked the fifth opportunity Austin has had to participate in the NAHL Draft. 2013 draft picks Sam Kauppila (Gurnee, IL) and Eli May (Eagan, MN) played significant roles in the Bruins’ deep playoff run last season and the team is hoping its 2014 draft-day acquisitions will be able to contribute next season.

On draft day, each of the league’s 24 teams selected players in reverse order of their finish in the 2013-14 regular season. Teams continued to make picks until their 30-player protected list was full, consisting of veteran players, tendered players and drafted players. With 13 veterans and five tendered players, the Bruins were able to make 12 draft selections Tuesday to fill the protected list.

The Bruins addressed its most glaring need with its first pick of the draft. With the departure of its most decorated goaltender in team history, Nick Lehr (Roseville, MN – Minnesota), Austin selected a talented young goalie early Tuesday in an attempt to fill that void. The Bruins chose Eastview High School junior (’97) Zach Driscoll (Apple Valley, MN) with the 20th pick overall in the first round. Driscoll led his Lightning team to the state tournament as a sophomore in 2012-13 and posted a 19-7 record as a junior, with a 93.2% save percentage and three shutouts. He is committed to St. Cloud State of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC).

Austin also graduated four defensemen from its 2013-14 roster, including captain Josh Bretner (N. Potomac, MD), Lucas Kohls (Forest Lake, MN – UMass-Lowell), Kody Reuter (Sioux City, IA) and May. The Bruins focused on that position early in the draft as well, using two of its first four picks on defensemen. With its second round pick, Austin chose (’95) blue-liner Max Gottlieb (Old Bridge, NJ), who played in 50 games last year (4-21-25) for the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).

In the fifth round, the Bruins drafted young (’97) defenseman Michael Davies (St. Louis, MO). Davies skated for the St. Louis AAA Blues U18 team last season, while also appearing in two games for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League (USHL). Perhaps the highlight of the year for Davies, who is committed to Ohio State in the Big Ten Conference, was playing for Team USA’s U17 team at the World Championships.

The rest of Austin’s nine remaining picks were used on forwards. The Bruins graduated six forwards, including all-time leading scorer Jay Dickman (Shoreview, MN – Bemidji State) and likely will have three or four younger players see opportunities in the USHL next season, so the team will have several spots open for competition on the front-end.

Without a third round pick, sent to the Michigan Warriors in a midseason trade for goalie Dillon Kelley (Petoskey, MI), the Bruins first selected a forward in Round 4. At pick #92 overall, Austin chose another AJHL player in (’95) Patrick Geary (Libertyville, IL), who played 40 games (9-10-19) for the Lloydminster Bobcats. Prior to Lloydminster, Geary suited up for the Chicago Young Americans of the High Performance Hockey League (HPHL), a platform the Bruins coaches have picked from in the past.

Three of Austin’s picks were used on forwards who spent most of 2013-14 on USHL rosters. In the sixth round, the Bruins chose (’95) Patrick Polino (Buffalo, NY), who ended up with the Green Bay Gamblers after a midseason trade from the Chicago Steel. Late in Round 9, Austin went with (’95) Kyle Eastman (Angola, NY), a veteran of the Tri-City Storm organization.

Finally, with its last pick in the draft (#212 – Round 13), the Bruins selected (’95) Blake Christiensen (Rochester Hills, MI). Polino and Eastman each have over 100 games of USHL experience, and Christiensen spent parts of 2013-14 in Youngstown, Muskegon and Lincoln of the USHL after playing for the US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) two years ago.

Davies’ teammate with the St. Louis AAA Blues, (’96) forward Alex Jasiek (St. Louis, MO), also heard his name called by the Bruins, when Austin picked him in the seventh round. Then in Round 8, the Bruins dabbled in the AJHL waters again, selecting (’94) center Adam Durkee (Lafayette, CO). Durkee had 46 points (23-23-46) in 60 games with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons last year.

In the tenth and 12th rounds, Austin drafted 17-year-old forwards from opposite ends of the country. Six-foot Los Angeles Jr. Kings (’97) forward Evan Weinger (Los Angeles, CA) was the choice in the tenth round. Two rounds later, the Bruins took (’97) John Carter (J.C.) Maclean (Basking Ridge, NJ), who finished last season with the New Jersey Rockets of the Eastern Hockey League (EHL).

High-scoring Wisconsin high school standout (’96) Zach Kennedy (Eagle River, WI) was Austin’s 11th round choice. Kennedy had 29 goals in 27 games (29-18-47) as a senior at Northland Pines High School last year and was named one of Wisconsin’s all-state honorable mentions.

Those who were drafted, and players who did not hear their names will have a chance to impress the Austin coaches and scouts at one of two Bruins summer tryout camps. The first camp is the Bruins’ Invite Tryout, held June 19-22 at St. Thomas Arena in Mendota Heights, MN. For more information, contact Assistant Coach Jamie Huffman (jamie@austinbruins.com), or Bruins Scout Riley Colvard (riley@austinbruins.com).