While the NHL playoffs continue on, there is one date – June 27 – that is top of mind with all hockey fans.
On that day, 30 NHL teams will come together for the NHL Entry Draft and shine a spot light on the league’s future stars. It is a day that hockey enthusiasts from around the world mark down on the calendar every year.
In recent memory, the NHL Entry Draft has been dominated by Canadian and European players. Thanks in great part to the Valley Jr Warrior program, however, the next three years will feature top New England talent.
The following is the first of a three-part feature called "Valley Jr. Warriors Put Massachusetts Back on the NHL Map" that highlights the Warriors’ impressive impact on developing local talent.
Part I examines the top New England talent in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Part I and III will look at the top local prospects in the 2015 and 2016 drafts, respectively.
The Rise of New England in 2014
When the draft is held on June 27-28, experts predict that 10 New England players will be selected in the draft and five of those outstanding prospects are VJW alums.
Players must have been born by Sept. 15, 1996, to be eligible for this year’s NHL draft, which will be held in Philadelphia. Eighteen-year-olds not selected last year may also remain draft-eligible this time around.
Topping the list of New England prospects is Newburyport native Shane Eiserman, who has already committed to the University of New Hampshire. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Eiserman shoots left and has been tabbed as a big-bodied winger who is able to generate scoring changes by overpowering opponents.
Eiserman played for the Valley Jr Warrior Junior B team and then spent a season at St. John’s Prep (Danvers) and Cushing Academy before heading to the Midwest.
Also high on the prospect list is J.D. Dudek, who has already committed to play for Boston College following a season of junior hockey next winter. Prior to taking his talents to prep school, Dudek was a key member of the VJW ’96 Elite squad.
Talent runs deep in the Dudek family as his father played briefly in the NFL for the Denver Broncos and still holds the NCAA record for most career touchdowns and 100-yard rushing games as a halfback with Plymouth State College in the mid-’80s.
The younger Dudek has clearly carried on the family tradition of excellance. It was recently reported – by New England Hockey Journal’s Kirk Luedeke – that Dudek is “one of the most creative playmakers in New England” and predicts that he “has the talent to be a late first round, solid second-round player.”
That is high praise from Luedeke, who has been covering the NHL draft for 15 years.
Dudek is very familiar with two other New England prospects in Tyler Bird and Bobo Carpenter.
Bird, a member of the VJW Junior B team who also played for St. John’s Prep (Danvers) his junior season, was a linemate of Dudek’s this past year at Kimball Union. An Andover native, Bird stands at 6-foot-2 and 200-pounds and is considered to be a power winger who drives to the net and has a strong and accurate shot.
Bird has committed to Brown University and the scouting report says that he has “impressive NHL upside”. If he or Eiserman are drafted it would mark the fourth consecutive year that a St. John’s Prep product has had their name called by an NHL team.
Interestingly, Bird and Eiserman also continue what has been a continuous stream of top VJW players who played for St. John’s Prep and then committed to a Division 1 college. Included in that list are Colin Blackwell (currently a junior at Harvard University), Sam Kurker (who played part of last season for Boston University) and Brian Pinho (who is committed to Providence College).
Carpenter is another Division I talent who last May became the second player to commit to the Boston University program since Jack Parker announced his retirement. A teammate of Dudek’s on the VJW ’96 Elite team, Carpenter is coming off another stellar season at Austin Prep and his head coach Louis Finnochio has nothing but the highest praise for him.
“He’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever coached,” said Finnochio during an interview with the Eagle Tribune. “Bar none. He goes and goes and goes. Bobo’s relentless. (He’s) already a leader as a sophomore and he’s got one of the hardest shots I’ve seen from a schoolboy. From afar, up close, anywhere on the ice he’s a threat.”
Carpenter and Ara Nazarian are two players who have come to know each other through fierce Super 8 battles. Nazarian plays for Austin Prep's arch rival Malden Catholic, which has to date collected four straight Division 1A Championship titles.
Much like Eiserman and Bird, Nazarian was a standout player for the VJW Junior B team where he finished as the team’s second leading scorer. He netted 30 goals and 20 assists in 34 games.
The Boxford native, who was the Boston Globe’s 2013 Division 1 Athlete of the Year, made University of New Hampshire fans very happy last spring when he committed to play for the Wildcats.
Looking ahead to 2015, the list of local prospects is even more impressive as projections show that three VJW alums may be selected in the first round. Part II of the "Valley Jr. Warriors Put Massachusetts Back on the NHL Map" feature will take a look at those Warrior standouts.
Click here for coverage of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.