The NHL Draft has become an annual right of passage for the Wisconsin hockey team. Not since 1997 has the program gone an entire draft without a single Badger hearing his name called. Over that time (fourteen drafts), 46 Badgers have been selected, including 15 players chosen in the top two rounds.
With their success in the draft, it's no surprise that 22 former players who were lucky enough to wear the treasured cardinal and white spent time in the NHL last season.
This year will be no different as players are preparing to head to Pittsburgh for the 2012 version of the league's annual entry draft. The first round is set to take place on Friday night, and will be broadcast in prime-time on the NBC Sports Network. Saturday's coverage of rounds two through seven will be picked up on the NHL Network.
Once again the Badgers are expected to make their presence felt with a couple of players who are hoping to hear their names called early. Incoming freshman Nic Kerdiles should be the first player with Badger ties selected in the steel city over the weekend. Some analysts have suggested the two-way forward out of California could go as high as #17.
Badger sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe, who is draft eligible for the first time this year has been rising up draft boards all year. There has even been chatter this week leading up to the draft that the Eau Clarie native could go as high as the second round.
There are a couple of other players connected to the program that are holding out hope that they see their names pop up on the draft board this weekend. Morgan Zulinick, a center out of British Columbia who will be joining the Badgers in the fall, 2013 recruit Tim Davison out of DePere, and 2014 recruit Grant Besse from Benilde St. Margaret's high school in the twin-cities are all potential late round selections.
Rankings, Scouting Reports & Mock Drafts:
**Nic Kerdiles, Freshman Forward (Irvine, California):
Red Line Report: 47
When you first see Kerdiles or if you catch him on the right night, he can look like a top-10 pick. Over the course of the season though, he projects as a third-line, hard-working forward. He has all the physical tools and is an honest player. He missed most of last season and has shown determination to battle back into top form.
Nicolas is a very skilled and talented player. He is a very good skater, effortless with speed, quickness and agility and he uses it to his advantage to create offensive chances. He is a hard player to defend against because he changes speed and keeps defenders off balance but he can quickly strike because he has very good sense and recognizes when an opportunity is there or about to be there. He has very good puck skills and a good release on his shot and passes the puck so well. He has played center and wing and shown not only versatility but the understanding of both of those positions as it relates to his skill set. Showing more goal scoring on the wing and more playmaking as a center. He is not a rugged player but uses his body to protect puck and keep defenders at bay. He is elusive and 'shakes' off checks very effectively and he is that player who appears at the right time to inflict damage. Overall, an undeniable skill set and versatility that is not in abundance.
Kerdiles is the top forward on the US U-18 team in what has been a weak crop of forwards for them this year. He's not a truly flashy player but certainly has good offensive skills and is a pretty well-rounded player with several offensive elements and gets it done in his own end as well. Kerdiles is a good skater who has a technically sound stride and can really be a pest on the forecheck with his speed. He has solid puck skills with the ability to make the odd move in open ice and shows some creativity off the rush. Kerdiles will flash the ability to be an above-average distributor but is inconsistent in that area as there will be times when he has tunnel vision and doesn't show desirable sense, only to make a great sense play later in the game. He's a hard-working two-way player who will drive the net, pressure physically on the forecheck, and hustle back diligently to help on defense. Kerdiles will also be used on the penalty kill and shows the ability to be effective. He doesn't have a really notable weakness other than his somewhat skinny frame, though as stated above, he doesn't have a standout skill.
Kerdiles continues to develop steadily into a productive offensive player. He has the necessary skating, shooting and puck skills to compete at the highest level. Kerdiles also does the little things well such as protecting the puck in traffic and possessing a nose for the net. Kerdiles will contribute defensively as he has the awareness to keep on the defensive side of the puck and maintains discipline and positioning in the defensive zone and on the forecheck. A strong U18 Championship could make Kerdiles this year’s JT Miller.
TSR Final Rank: 27
Much like other top draft eligible players in this year’s draft, Kerdiles was struck by the injury bug this season—missing six games due to a lower body injury in the middle of the season. Despite the injury, Kerdiles lead the program in goals and assists with 22 goals and 26 assists in 54 games. The University of Wisconsin commit reminds many of former NTDP program mate J.T. Miller in that he’s very strong on the ice, but falls short in the potential offensive upside.
An two-way forward without a true ‘plus' skill, Nicolas Kerdiles oscillates between the late first and mid-second rounds depending on who you talk to. Kerdiles's puck-possession game is fairly advanced and he has the power and skill to beat defenders one-on-one and win battles along the wall with equal frequency. He's equal parts gritty power-forward finisher and skilled perimeter playmaker. His skating-game is solid and his defensive game is currently above-average (and could be ‘plus'). However, several scouts and analysts have brought up character, hockey-sense and effort concerns which could be major hurdles to potential Day One consideration.
Kerdiles Mock Drafts:
DraftSite.com (Graeme): 38, Carolina Hurricanes (Second Round)
Bleacher Report: 36, Anaheim Ducks (Second Round)
The Anaheim Ducks draft California's latest product. The power forward will be a good second-liner at the NHL level.
Not the fastest skater but is an essential part of his team's success. He is very strong and is asked to engage in the corner battles and wall work. Plays gritty every night and has the ability to score in close or from the areas near the front. More quick than fast. A good finisher, he places the puck well with his shots. He is possibly worthy of a first round selection, if the team choosing him sees continued success, commitment, and upside in his offensive abilities. If not, you get a player who is a natural scorer, but lacks big parts to his game, thus limiting his ice-time if not corrected.
Much like JT Miller of the Rangers, Kerdiles has an excellent package of skills, but hasn’t really produced to the level he probably could. He suffered an injury just like everybody in this year’s draft seems to have, but recovered from it well. He’s an extremely aggressive forchecking player who never stops skating hard. His two-way game is very mature and he’s been known to frustrate the hell out of players by picking their pocket. He plays a slightly physical game and loves to go to the net and play a strong cycle game with his puck protection skills. He needs to improve his skating to increase his first step speed, the willingness to rush back is there but at times he can’t catch them until it’s too late. He is more of a playmaker than goal scorer and most of his goals are from hard work around the net. He’s a guy who would fit in really well with the team mantra of the Blues and his play at the U18’s has given some hope to his potential upside.
**Jake McCabe, Sophomore Defenseman (Eau Claire, WI):
Red Line Report: 61
Jake is more of a defending type player but may be able to contribute a measure of offense in time because he has no hesitation in jumping into the play and trying to make a difference offensively. His skating base is decent but his agility and quickness will have to improve to be able to have success at the NHL level. He competes and plays a determined style of game but he doesn't possess a punishing aspect to his game or one that gets the attention of opponents and can keep them off balance. Without an improvement in his skating, he will find himself off balance and challenged vs. speed and in a quick pace. He has good sense and makes plays with the puck that are solid and safe. He isn't hesitant to try to initiate things with the puck but his game is defensive positioning and trying to make it challenging for opponents to get scoring chances. Has time to improve and there isn't any major drawback that indicates he can't improve.
TSR Final Rank: 57
Much like 37th ranked Phil Di Giuseppe, McCabe’s late birthday had him play out his draft year in the college ranks. The transition from the National Team Development Program to the older, stronger college game appeared to be an easy one for the Wisconsin defenseman. McCabe, who played with top NCAA defensemen John Ramage and Justin Schultz all season, is an agile defenseman who focuses on defense first with very under rated offensive abilities. He has a great shot and can be a great set up man on the power play. While his lack of physical play is amplified in playing college this season, McCabe was frequently getting out manned this season.
McCabe had a fine freshman year for the Badgers, and showed more significant improvement to his offensive upside than what he displayed during his time with the US National Program. I was quite surprised during the first few games of the college season to see McCabe lining up on Wisconsin's first power play unit along with super prospect Justin Schultz, seeing as McCabe got limited if any PP time on the US Under-18 team in the second half of last season. He doesn't have a standout skill but he's a smart player with above-average overall sense in terms of his reads and vision who can make a fine outlet and can also see the stretch play. McCabe has a decent shot, playing his off-wing on the PP and was able to open up and use a fine one-timer. He's a reliable defensive player who regularly sticks tight to his assignments, is pretty strong and effective in his one-on-one battles, and doesn't hurt his team with brain cramp mistakes. McCabe is a little undersized for the position, but he should projects to be okay in the physical game at the highest level. His skating also needs a little bit of work; while he's not a fringe skater, he doesn't generate a whole lot of power from his movements and certainly isn't average.
McCabe Mock Drafts:
DraftSite.com (Graeme): 58, Phoenix Coyotes (Second Round)
Some say being paired with Justin Schultz at Wisconsin made him appear better than he is. The truth is he has a strong stand-alone game and is an effective player all over the ice. Good developing defender with high hockey IQ in all phases and will be able to develop into a defender who can handle NHL attackers.
With an older birthday, McCabe found himself in the NCAA against older competition before he probably should have. All in all however he turned a negative into a positive by having a great freshman year. Riding shotgun to Justin Schultz, McCabe proved to be his defensive watchdog and showed excellent prowess at covering any mistakes on the ice. He’s such a solid complimentary defender that he has few weaknesses. He is an extremely mobile skater and can close easily with some very fast forwards. He stick checks like a master. The big area for concern is that he lacks physicality. It may just be due to facing guys who are 22-24 on a regular basis, but he was outmanned a lot and needs to work that issue or he’ll find himself labeled as a "soft" player. All in all he could prove to be a solid top-4 complimentary player that can protect a puck moving dman from himself.
Bleacher Report: 66, Nashville Predators (Third Round)
The Predators continue to build on their blue-line corps with a mature two-way talent.
**Grant Besse, 2014 Forward Recruit (Benilde St. Margaret's HS)
Red Line Report: 139
Grant Besse Mock Drafts:
DraftSite.com (Bill Placzek): 136, Ottawa Senators (Fifth Round)
Smaller, speedy forward who is a goal scorer. In his first two years of high school he scored 30 goals and 50 points in each year. Led his team by scoring all five goals in the Minnesota Class 2A boys’ hockey championship game.
**Morgan Zulinick, Freshman Forward (Kamloops, BC)
Hailing from Kamloops, BC, the playmaking Zulinick has the skating and competitiveness in place to develop into a solid late-round find. The 17-year old scored 24 goals and 66 points this season in the BCHL and looks set for the tall duty of entering the University of Wisconsin as a true freshman in 2012-13. It’s very odd that he didn’t play for Canada West at the Jr. “A” challenge.Despite his average frame, Zulinick has an all-around offensive package featuring a good burst and excellent handle and creativity. He would have fit in nicely with the Edmonton Oil Kings, who used a 3rd round on Zulinick despite clear college intentions. Some will call this my obligatory BCHL mention, but talent is talent and Zulinck has plenty despite lacking the model frame.
Morgan Zulinick Mock Drafts:
DraftSite.com (Graeme): 202, Tampa Bay Lightning (Seventh Round)
Bleacher Report: 179, Nashville Predators (Sixth Round)
**Tim Davison, 2013 Defense Recruit (DePere, WI)
Red Line Report: 277
Smaller defender who possesses strong offensive ability due to his feet and hands. Great offensive vision and dynamic skater who just blows up ice and catches opponents flat-footed. Makes up for his smaller stature with a quick stick that forces away pucks and passes really well to put it in transition. His speed allows him on D to close gaps quickly and pressure the carriers.
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