Sunday’s 2013 NHL Draft may go down in the record books as one of the deepest in terms of the quality of the players picked. It also may go down in history in terms of the number of players of color among the 211 players drafted.
“Black talent goes early in NHL draft,” read a proud headline from the online edition of The St. Louis American, the city’s weekly African-American newspaper.
At least eight players of color were chosen over seven rounds during the day-long festivities at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
They all hope to some day play in a National Hockey League that’s already growing more diverse. According to the league, there were 69 minority players in the 2012-13 season, including 44 who were on season-opening team rosters. Of the 44, half were black, 11 were native/aboriginal, four were Hispanic, three were Asian, two were West Asian/Arab, one was Inuit and one South Asian/Indian.
Much of the attention at the draft focused on defenseman Seth Jones, a projected Number One pick in the eyes of many, and defenseman Darnell Nurse, who worked his way into the Top 10 player rankings in the weeks leading to the draft.
Jones, the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, was selected fourth by the Nashville Predators, the highest an African-American player has ever been chosen. Nurse, a Canadian and nephew of retired Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, went seventh to the Edmonton Oilers. But he would have won the draft’s “Top Quote Award” – if they offered one – for reminding folks about how Uncle Donovan was treated by the Philly faithful when he was drafted in 1999.
“Yeah, we’re even,” Nurse said. “Because he went higher than me but I didn’t get booed in my draft. So we’re even.”
Much has been made about the prospects and pedigrees of Jones and Nurse. But the other players of color drafted after them are also very talented. Here’s a look at some of them:
Defenseman Madison Bowey of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets was taken by the Washington Capitals in the draft’s second round, the 53rd pick overall. Future Considerations, a hockey scouting publication, describes him as an “athletic, strong, skating, two-way blueliner who has very good NHL upside.”
“He has fluid movements and smooth feet that allow him to transition without loss of speed,” according to Future Considerations. “He is at his best when he goes back into his own zone, retrieves the puck, take(s) a couple of strides and then shoot a crisp first pass to one of his streaking forwards.”
“I like to play a physical game and also use my speed to my advantage,” Bowey told reporters after being drafted. “I think I can bring that to the Caps.”
Right Wing Justin Bailey should feel right at home if he makes the Buffalo Sabres roster after the team drafted him in the second round with the 52 overall pick. The Kitchener Rangers junior player grew up in Williamsville, N.Y., about a 20 minute drive to downtown Buffalo.
Like Jones and Nurse, Bailey comes from a pro-sports family. His father, Carlton Bailey, was a linebacker for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Justin Bailey scored 17 goals, notched 19 assists and was a plus-22 in 57 games for the OHL Rangers in the 2012-13 season.
“Justin’s on the upswing,” Kevin Devine, the Sabres’ director of amateur scouting told NHL.com. “He’s a big guy who hasn’t filled out his frame yet, and very athletic. He’s just kind of getting it now after his first year in Kitchener. That’s a heck of a league he played in, and to score 17 goals is a good accomplishment. His potential is unlimited.”
Jonathan-Ismael Diaby of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Victoriaville Tigres is yet another big defenseman taken in the draft. The Predators, who took big defenseman Jones in the first round, selected Diaby with the 64th pick in the third round. Again, Diaby has an athletic pedigree. His father, from the Ivory Coast, played professional soccer in Africa.
“They don’t really know much about hockey there (Ivory Coast),” Diaby told The Buffalo News. “My father didn’t know much. I started playing because of my friends at school, and I enjoyed it so I kept playing.”
The Hockey News called the 6-foot-5, 223-pound, Quebec-born Diaby “a beast on the ice” who’s not afraid to drop the gloves and fight. Future Considerations calls him a “toolsy defenseman that has a ways to go to fulfill his potential.”
Combine Diaby and Jones and you potentially have nearly 430 pounds and more than 12-feet worth of defenseman protecting Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, a tall drink of water himself at 6-foot-5, 204 pounds
With the 69th pick in the third round, the Sabres selected Nicholas Baptiste, a versatile right wing from the OHL Sudbury Wolves.
The website “Hockey’s Future” said “Baptiste is a solid, two-way right-winger who rocketed up Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters. He jumped 44 spots to 61st overall in the final rankings, based upon his commitment to focusing on the defensive zone. Last year, Baptiste was all offense all day, but this year he improved all facets of his game and the scouts have taken note.”
Apparently, so did the Sabres.
Defenseman Jordan Subban had to wait until the draft’s fourth round to hear his familiar last name called. The Vancouver Canucks took the Belleville Bulls blueliner with the 115th pick. He’s the brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and goaltender Malcolm Subban, who was a first-round pick of the Boston Bruins last year.
Jordan Subban is a departure from most of the defensemen taken in the draft and he plays a much different game than bigger big brother P.K., who was awarded the Norris Trophy last month as the NHL’s best defenseman in the 2012-13 season.
The younger Subban is small, about 5-foot-9, 177 pounds. But he has survived and thrived in hockey as an offensive-minded, puck-moving defenseman, a commodity that most NHL teams covet.
P.K. Subban said NHL teams shouldn’t be fooled by Jordan’s size. He said Jordan plays big and has more skills than he does.
“Jordan plays more of a cerebral type (of game),” P.K. told TSN.com. “He’s more of a thinker. I play off my instincts and I try to do a little bit of everything, but Jordan’s skill level his higher than mine. I mean, I’m on the ice with him every day during the summer doing skill stuff and he’s the one demonstrating the drills…I’m not.”
The entire Subban clan sat in the Prudential Center waiting for Jordan to be picked. The family exploded with joy when Vancouver finally made the call.
“Obviously I was hoping to go a little bit earlier, but it doesn’t matter how long you wait. I’ve waited 18 years for this day,” Jordan told NHL.com. “I’m ecstatic that I’ve been given this opportunity to be part of an NHL organization. Being a Canadian team is the cherry on top.”