MUSKEGON, MI- The USHL draft takes place in just a few days, with Phase I beginning at 7:00pm Monday, May 7 and Phase II beginning Tuesday, May 8 at 11:00am.
The draft marks the unofficial beginning of the 2018-19 season, and a critical event in building next year’s team. Forward Alex Gaffney has already become the first new Lumberjack, signing a tender agreement with the Jacks on April 17.
“Expect some surprises,” said GM John Vanbiesbrouck. “Things are heating up as we approach the draft.”
Last year, Vanbiesbrouck pulled off a blockbuster draft-day trade, getting Wyatt Bongiovanni and Monte Graham from the Tri-City Storm in exchange for the Jacks’ first-round, Phase II draft pick. Will the Jacks’ GM make another splash ahead of his fifth USHL draft?
EXPLAINING THE DRAFT(S)
The Phase I draft is ten rounds, and only 2002-born players are eligible for selection (1st-year eligible players are those born 16 years prior to the USHL draft year). Muskegon has nine picks, and will not draft until the second round (26th overall) because a team’s first tender replaces their first-round, Phase I pick.
As of now, the Jacks still have their second tender to use in place of that 2nd-round pick, meaning they could sign any 2002-born player who hasn’t already signed a tender contract. The tender deadline is Saturday, so Muskegon would have to act quickly if they want to go that route.
Thus far, eight players have been tendered by seven different teams. Tri-City has used two tenders, the maximum allowed by the USHL.
If no other tenders are signed, the Central Illinois Flying Aces will be on the clock with the first overall pick when 7:00pm rolls around on Monday.
The fact that none of the players eligible for the Phase I draft have played at the junior level means that few of them will be factors during the 2017-18 USHL season. A vast majority of players taken in Phase I spend their first year on a USHL affiliate list, in hopes of cracking the lineup down the road.
However, there are a few exceptions to the rule, with Andrei Svechnikov being a huge one. In 2016-17, Svechnikov became the youngest first-team All-USHL selection at least since the league moved to tier one junior hockey back in 2002-03. This season, first-year-eligible players like Robert Mastrosimone (Chicago Steel, 45 points) and Muskegon’s own Egor Afanasyev made huge impacts for their USHL clubs.
There will be a handful of 2002s that will make an impact right away, but don’t count on many of these players to produce this year. Most will be draft picks that GM John Vanbiesbrouck hopes will make contributions in the future.
The Phase II draft, however, is where the 2018-19 team will be bolstered. This section of the draft is open to all eligible players not on any team’s protected list, regardless of birthyear. The Jacks dealt their first and second round picks in this year’s Phase II draft, but have two third-round picks (42nd and 47th overall).
Phase II picks often come from the North American Hockey League, a tier two junior league. Players like 2016-17 USHL Forward of the Year Zach Solow, 2016-17 USHL Player of the Year Matiss Kivlenieks, and Lumberjack center Mikael Hakkarainen all played in the North American League.
Many USHL general managers will turn their eye toward the NAHL to fill their roster with players who can make an impact right away.
The Phase II draft will begin Tuesday morning at 11:00am and last until every roster has 45 players on it.
Of course, each team has a different number of returning players, and GMs have to decide if they want to forgo holding onto affiliate players and get more Phase II picks instead.
Main camp is still a long ways off (May 24-27), but by the time the draft has concluded, we’ll have a much better idea of which players will be getting an invite to the tryout camp.