The Portland Winterhawks saw two players drafted during the NHL Draft this weekend. As expected, John Ludvig went in the third round to the Florida Panthers in position 69 as he tallied 18 points in 58 games. As a defenceman, Ludvig was a strong at-home player and his stock rose during the season. He will join the Hawks as a 19-year-old following his camp with Florida. Ludvig was an invited player to the Boston Bruins camp last year and seemed to make a fairly strong impression. He started two years back, grabbing seven points in 51 games and doubled that this year while making a strong impression on the ice with a handful more games played.
The Hawks also saw Reece Newkirk drafted in position 147 by the New York Islanders. Newkirk just turned 18 in February and enters his first draft. Newkirk generated 59 points in his first full campaign with the Hawks. The previous year he tallied just eleven points and was a -1 when it came to scoring versus being on the ice when scored upon. This season, he was a +12; he will be called upon in the upcoming season to be a leader on the ice.
With the two draft choices, Portland has seen 139 players drafted into the NHL since 1976, the most of any WHL team. Several Hawks will get invites to NHL Camps this season including signed players like goaltender Joel Hofer, who was signed to the St. Louis Blues a couple seasons ago.
Clay Hanus was thought to be on the draft radar into the third round but didn’t get into the draft. Instead, he has landed a shot at a development camp with the Ottawa Senators, which will run this week. If he performs well, which is expected, he will be looking at a rookie camp in August at least.
Like several players like Hanus, the draft yielded a few non-draft players which surprised some, but the ones who weren’t drafted will most likely be a part of an NHL camp in August. Several players have been signed during these camps, so the draft is not always a barometer of what players will end up being. Because each team is limited on the draft, listing players and inviting players seems to be the real way to go except perhaps in the first round.
The draft like many is hopeful players will mold into a system, develop the way they are projected and will be an important cog in the team. That is incredible pressure to put on an 18- or 19-year-old. In most cases, it may be a few years to be sure that this is the right fit. Goaltenders are rarely drafted early, as many take five to six years to develop from the draft. Players may start out strong, but the pressure prevents them from achieving their projected goals in the NHL. You will see many become worldwide travelers as they play in Russia, China or other overseas places as they look to gain their shot. There are some who will play in “lower leagues” such as the AHL, ECHL, etc. as they look to either gain their footing as a pro player or enjoy less stress.
The WHL will be releasing its regular-season schedule this upcoming week with the Hawks looking to the Central Swing through Alberta and for the first time, Swift Current as part of the WHL realignment as Kootenay officially starts as the Winnipeg Ice this season. Portland will visit there next season.