Odds are there won’t be anyone from Newfoundland and Labrador selected in the National Hockey League’s Entry Draft beginning tonight in Dallas, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been players from this province on the radar of NHL scouts this season.
In fact, two players — forward Matthew Grouchy of Labrador City and St. John’s native Lucas Fitzpatrick, a goaltender — were listed in the mid-term rankings of NHL’s Central Scouting. Grouchy was 174th among North American skaters, while Fitzpatrick was 20th among North American goalies. However, both struggled during the second half of the 2017-18 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season and were left off Central Scouting’s final rankings.
Central Scouting ranked 217 North Amercan skaters (seven rounds worth) and 31 North American goalies, but history has shown that the actual draft results often vary from what Central Scouting predicted.
The 18-year-old Grouchy was a revelation with the Charlottetown Islanders in 2016-17, transforming from a sixth-round draft pick from whom little was expected to a dependable regular third- and fourth-liner, finishing with 11 goals, 28 points and a plus-16 rating.
Grouchy had a strong start to his second major junior season, putting up 11 goals and 12 assists in 33 games with the Islanders before being traded to the Quebec Remparts on Jan. 2. But the 6-1, 190-pound right-winger didn’t benefit from the move, managing just six goals and four assists in 30 games. He did flourish in the playoffs, leading the Remparts in scoring with a goal and nine assists in seven-game, first-round series loss against his old team, the Islanders.
It’s worth noting that Grouchy, who played for bantam and midget teams in Ontario, has a Newfoundland and Labrador Hockey Hall of Famer as a relative. That’s his great uncle, Bishop’s Falls native Jim (Bucky) Hannaford, the Grand Falls senior star who also was also a fine baseball player and inductee into the provincial sports Hall of Fame.
Fitzpatrick also has a well-known hockey-playing relative. That’s his older brother Evan, the goalie who helped the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to a QMJHL championship, then a Memorial Cup and who is set to begin his pro career this fall with the St. Louis Blues, who made him a second-round NHL draft pick in 2016.
Lucas Fitzpatrick, who like his brother played midget hockey in Nova Scotia after his family moved there, had a decent start to his rookie QMJHL season with the Cataractes, but didn’t fare nearly as well once a new calendar was required. The 6-2, 210-pound netminder didn’t record a win after Christmas, going 0-11 in January, February and March, finishing with an overall record of 4-21, 4.31 goals-against average and .874 save percentage.
Even if Fitzpatrick, Grouchy and/or any other eligible players from this province aren’t selected this weekend, it doesn’t mean their NHL draft dreams are dead. They can look no further than St. John’s native Nathan Noel, the forward who went through the disappointment of going unselected in the 2015 Entry Draft despite being ranked 54th among North American skaters by Central Scouting.
Noel was drafted the next year, taken in the fourth round by the Chicago Blackhawks; he turned pro this past season, splitting the season between Blackhawks farm teams in the AHL and ECHL.
And then there is the all-time leading scorer among Newfoundlanders who played in the National Hockey League
Bonavista’s Michael Ryder was drafted in 1998 by the Montreal Canadiens, but if Ryder’s draft year had come a decade later, he wouldn’t have been picked.
The Canadiens took Ryder in the eighth round, 216th overall, but that was when the draft was a nine-round affair. In 2006, the draft was scaled back to seven rounds, with only 211 to 213 players selected each year from through 2016.
There is almost zero chance that Newfoundland and Labrador won’t have a drafted player in 2019.
Alex Newhook of St. John’s, who played with the British Columbia Hockey League’s Victoria Grizzlies last season and was the Canadian junior A rookie of the year, was recently ranked second overall among all 2019 draft prospects by The Hockey News.
Besides Newhook, who is committed to play for Boston College, fellow forward Brett Budgell of Paradise is also draft-eligible next year. Budgell was the team rookie of the year with the Charlottetown Islanders for 2017-18 despite playing just half a season in the QMJHL.