We all know the stories about the kid from Canada playing in the OHL who went undrafted and is now a future all-star in the NHL. We know the story about the kid from Norway who took the Swedish Elite League by storm and now is in North America on a professional contract. Of course we know about those stories because we are Rangers fans. The Dan Girardi’s and Mats Zuccarello’s of the world are hard to find, but when found can prove a valuable asset to an NHL organization.
Last season the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs won their first national championship since joining the WCHA in 1965. On this seasons current roster for UMD Jack Connolly, a senior, is their leading goal scorer. Connolly also led the Bulldogs in scoring last season on their way to the National Championship, and he has not been drafted by an NHL team. Behind Connolly is JT Brown who recorded 37 points in his freshman year, and now has 19 points in 14 games for the Bulldogs this season; undrafted. Starting goalie Ken Reiter is in his third season with UMD and has never posted a goals against average greater than 2.40. For UMD this year, he has recorded a 9-2-2 record and 3 shutouts. Ken, now 25, was not been drafted by an NHL team. Hopefully with UMD earning the National Championship last season, and maintaining a strong record this season behind the play of Connolly, Brown, and Reiter, some of these kids get the shot they have earned.
Two stories this year of undrafted NCAA players getting their shot have begun. Scooter Vaughan, a teammate of current New York Ranger Carl Hagelin for four years at Michigan, has recently signed a contract to play with the Wheeling Nailers (former team of one BizNasty2Point0) in the ECHL. Vaughan recorded 3 assists in his first 2 games for the Nailers, but has been held off the scoresheet in the Nailers past 3 games. Vaughan’s slide under the radar may not be as surprising as one like Connolly or Brown since Vaughan really didn’t find his game until his senior season under Red Berenson. In his senior season as a two-way defenseman Vaughan recorded 24 points in 44 contests and was an integral part of Michigan’s run to the National Championship where they were defeated by UMD. In the tournaments four games Vaughan recorded 2 goals and 1 assist. Had he found his game at a younger age Vaughan would have been on the radar of many NHL amateur scouts. Now Vaughan is finally getting his shot.
The other, and if I can be candid, more successful undrafted NCAA player of this season goes to Andy Miele. The Hobey Baker award winner for the best collegiate hockey player last season, Miele took the University of Miami (Ohio) by storm in his last season there. In his senior year Miele recorded 71 points (24 goals) in just 39 games. Behind Miele in scoring was Carter Camper who is currently playing for Providence (AHL) as an undrafted free agent. And behind Camper was Reilly Smith, now in his junior year at Miami, Smith was drafted in 2009 by the Dallas Stars.
Miele, a native of Grosse Pointe Woods, MI, impressed enough en route to the Hobey Baker award for the Phoenix Coyotes to offer him a professional contract. Miele even represented the United States at the World Championships this past summer, he recorded 2 assists in the 2 games that he dressed for. This season Miele began in the NHL but couldn’t find his scoring touch he knew at Miami and went pointless in his first 5 career games. Since then, Miele has been finding his game in the AHL…as if that’s not the understatement of this blog. Miele is currently 2nd among all AHL rookies in scoring, and 13th in the entire league with 20 points (7 goals) in 14 games for Portland. Miele only trails Corey Conacher in rookie scoring. Conacher has put up a very impressive statline in his rookie season for Norfolk with 23 points (10 goals) in 20 games. Conacher hails from Ontario, and played four seasons in Buffalo for Canisius College before being signed as an undrafted free-agent.
It’s time for AHL and ECHL General Managers everywhere to start really giving these kids an in-depth look.