The 2014 National Hockey League Draft concluded Saturday with alums of the Skillz Black Aces youth hockey teams doing the squad’s smiling Afro-man logo proud.
Three Skillz veterans were chosen in the draft Saturday, joining Windsor Spitfires forward Joshua
Ho-Sang, who was taken Friday night in the first round with the 28th overall pick by the New York Islanders. The draft began Saturday morning with the Buffalo Sabres choosing Brendan Lemieux, a Skillz alum who’s a forward for the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, with the first pick in the second round, the 31st overall pick.
While elated to be selected by Buffalo, Lemiuex, the son of former NHLer Claude Lemieux, was disappointed that he wasn’t chosen in the first round, where some mock drafts projected him. Lemieux tallied 27 goals, 25 assists and a whopping 145 penalty minutes in 65 games for Barrie during the 2013-14 season.
“I expected to be a first round pick and never really looked at the second round,” Lemieux told Yahoo Sports. “But that being said, things have a way of working out.”
The Skillz Black Aces and Black Mafia teams began as Toronto-based summer youth hockey teams coached by Cyril Bollers and comprised of elite, NHL draft-eligible players born between 1995 and 1996 – and almost all of them black. As the program became successful, kids of all colors began filling out the rosters.
Alums include Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Darnell Nurse, the Edmonton Oilers’ 2013 first-round pick last summer; Kitchener Rangers forward Justin Bailey, a Buffalo Sabres second-round pick; forward Stephen Harper of the Erie Otters; and Bellville Bulls defenseman Jordan Subban, the Vancouver Canucks’ fourth-round pick and the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and Boston Bruins goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban.
Now add Lemieux, Keegan Iverson, and Jaden Lindo to the list. Iverson, a forward for the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, was scooped up by the New York Rangers in the third round with the 85th overall pick. He registered 22 goals, 20 assists and 85 penalty minutes in 67 games for the Winterhawks. Last week, the Minnesota-born Iverson was among 42 players invited by USA Hockey to attend the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp, an audition for a roster spot on Team USA for the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship tournament.
“Pretty exciting stuff,” Amy Iverson, Keegan’s mother, said in an email message Saturday.
Iverson barely had time to celebrate being drafted. He boarded a plane Sunday for the Big Apple to attend the Rangers prospect camp, which runs June 30 to July 4 at Madison Square Garden Training Center.
“With the way the game is going you’ve heard every GM say we want to get bigger and stronger and faster, and that heavy style; well that’s the type of game (Iverson) plays,” Gordie Clark, the Rangers director of player personnel said on the team’s website. (Portland) had a really good team with five really high-skilled players that got most of the ice time. So I think with more ice time available next year (Iverson’s) numbers will go up.”
Iverson didn’t attend the draft at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, preferring to watch at home in St. Louis Park, Minn., with his family. Lindo wasn’t in Philadelphia, either. The forward for the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack was trying to watch the draft on television at home in Ontario, Canada.
Frustrated with the broadcast’s lag in listing drafted players, Lindo switched on his tablet to get more up-to-date results. That’s how he learned he was chosen by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth round with the 173rd overall pick. Lindo was surprised about being selected because he suffered a torn left ACL that curtailed his 2013-14 season at Owen Sound.
The power forward who lists Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds and Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward as role models, collected 9 goals, 9 assists and 41 penalty minutes in 40 games for the Attack.
“When I saw my name, I just screamed,” Lindo told me. “My mom jumped up and hugged me. I feel amazing, Pittsburgh’s a good organization. I’m going to work harder than before so the (knee) rehab goes well.”
The Penguins foresee Lindo becoming a Simmonds-like NHL power forward.
“Jaden Lindo is big, good along the wall, heavy on pucks, strong, good on the forecheck…great low game,” Randy Sexton, the Penguins co-director of amateur scouting said on the Penguins official website. “He’ll chip in with some offense, very reliable defensively.”
Any comparisons to Ward and Simmonds, who led the Flyers with 29 goals last season, is fine with Lindo.
“I try to model my game to theirs,” he told the Penguins website. “They’re both strong, physical players. I’m a big, strong winger. I like to use my size and strength to my advantage. I’m physical. I like to separate men off the puck and create room for my teammates.”