The 2015 NHL Draft will forever be considered one of the deepest drafts in league history in terms of talent. But it will also go down as one the richest drafts in terms of diversity.
Nine players of color were selected in the draft’s seven rounds. Yes, Connor McDavid had his name called by the Edmonton Oilers, and Jack Eichel’s by the Buffalo Sabres. But forward Jordan Greenway also got the call. So did Bokondji Imama, a two-fisted winger whose family hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ditto forward Andong Song, who carries the hockey aspirations of a nation on his New York Islanders jersey-clad shoulders. Here’s a look at some of the players chosen:
Greenway, a forward with the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, was drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Wild, the 50th player selected overall.
The 6-foot-4 player from Potsdam, N.Y., tallied five goals and 15 assists in 23 games last season for the NTDP’s United States Hockey League entry and nine goals and 35 assists in 53 games for the U.S. National Under-18 squad.
“I’m fortunate enough just to be here in the draft,” Greenway 18, told reporters after donning a Wild jersey. “Being drafted here is great. Everyone dreams of being in the NHL Draft one day. It’s just unbelievable.”
Greenway won’t be a stranger in the Twin Cities. He played three seasons for Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a hockey power prep school about 57 miles south of St. Paul. But don’t look for Greenway in the NHL soon. He’s committed to playing hockey at Boston University this fall.
“I really like the city of Boston,” he said. “Playing college hockey or the (Ontario Hockey League) is a good route. For some people college hockey is a good route and for some people the OHL is a good route. I like school.”
Keegan Kolesar’s loss proved to be his gain at the draft. The Seattle Thunderbirds right wing was taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third round with the 69th overall pick.
Kolesar worked hard to shed about 20 pounds off his 2013-14 playing weight. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Kolesar scored 19 goals and 19 assists in 64 games for Seattle. He also was a regular visitor to the penalty box with 85 minutes.
“The weight loss and dedication I put into training and nutrition really helped,” Kolesar told The Winnipeg Sun. “I’m a power forward in the truest sense. I think I’m one of the better forecheckers in the (Canadian Hockey League). I like to fight and I have a knack for the net and offensive instincts. I play well in all three zones.”
The Winnipeg Jets nabbed left wing Erik Foley in the third round with the 78th pick in the draft. Foley grew up a Boston Bruins fan in Mansfield, Mass., but is looking forward to starting a pro career with the Jets in “a real hockey hotbed.”
Foley scored 27 goals and 27 assists in 55 games last season with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. “I’m a power forward,” he said. “I like to use my body, use my shot.”
Foley’s stock rose in the days leading to the draft. One USHL coach told The Winnipeg Sun that Foley was “probably the toughest player in the USHL to play against.”
Foley won’t be playing with Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien soon. He’ll be in Rhode Island playing for the Providence Friars, the reigning NCAA Frozen Four champs, this fall.
Right wing Mathieu Joseph had been to Florida only once before attending the draft. Now he may be calling the Sunshine State home after the Tampa Bay Lightning chose him in the fourth round, the 120th overall pick.
A native of Chambly, Quebec, Joseph notched 21 goals and 21 assists in 59 games for the Saint Johns Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season.
“I’m kind of a power forward with a little bit of skill, so I can bring some offense but I can play on the penalty kill, too,” he said. “I’m more of a guy who’s hard to play against. I’m always a guy who’s going to forecheck and backcheck and I’m always intense, I think that’s pretty much the type of hockey (Tampa Bay) is playing.”
Caleb Jones came along to watch his big brother Seth Jones on draft day 2013 in Newark, N.J. The Jones family waited anxiously until the highly prized defenseman was taken fourth overall by the Nashville Predators.
Last weekend was Caleb’s turn. The sturdy 18-year-old defenseman from theNTDP was drafted in the fourth round by the Oilers, the 117th pick overall.
“This was a little less nerve-wracking,” Caleb said.
At 6 foot and 194 pounds, Caleb is the smaller of the hockey-playing sons of Popeye
Jones, the former NBA player, but he may be the grittier of the two. “I’m a two-way defenseman,” he said. “I play a physical game, aggressive in the corners”
Perhaps no sixth-round draft pick in NHL history has generated as much attention as defenseman Andong Song, who was taken by the Islanders over the weekend with the 172nd pick.
Song is the first player in draft history born in China. He arrived at Sunrise’s BB&T Center with an entourage: His family and a television crew from China’s CCTV that followed his every move.
“Hopefully what I want to do is rally people behind me,” the 18-year-old Beijing-born player said. “Not focus on myself but do something good for Chinese hockey.”
Hockey in China could surely use a boost. A country with over 1.3 billion people, China has only 610 hockey players – 118 men, 308 juniors, 184 females – according to IIHF figures. The nation has only 58 indoor ice skating rinks and 43 outdoor facilities.
Song’s selection prompted the IIHF to put a list of Asian hockey milestones on its website. Song admits that he feels “a lot of pressure from people back home” to help put hockey on the map.
“Good pressure,” he added. “That’ll motivate me to become a better player and hopefully I’ll make them proud.”
A 6-foot, 165-pound blue-liner, Song played last season for New Jersey’s Lawrenceville School. He tallied 3 goals and 7 assists in 26 games. He’ll play next season for Philips Academy, a top prep school in Andover, Mass. He hopes to catch the attention of an NCAA Division I hockey school.
Song has international hockey experience. He twice played for China in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Division B World Under-18 championship and captained the team that played in the 2015 tournament in Novi Sad, Serbia. He had two assists in five tourney games.
“When I started playing (in China) there weren’t a lot of people,” he said. “There wasn’t much support for the game. Last year when I went back, it had been eight years since I’d seen Chinese hockey and it was tremendous how far it’s grown. I’m sure they’ll keep trying to catch up to Europe and North America and Russia. There’s still a gap between them, but I’m sure if we focus on hockey we can catch up.”
Bokondji Imama could one day have the most distinctive name in the NHL.
The Montreal native, a solid 6-foot-1, 214 pound left wing for the QMJHL’s St. John’s Sea Dogs, realized his dream when the Lightning selected him with the 180th overall pick in the sixth round.
Imama had three goals and six assists in 23 games for the Sea Dogs, but he also had 48 penalty minutes. According to the website hockeyfights.com, Imama had 15 in the 2014-15 regular season and two during the preseason.
Imama’s father, also named Bokondji, and mother were born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bokondji grew up as a typical kid in Montreal, playing hockey on outdoor rinks. But he loved all sports, and played rugged games with his father. The training turned him into a physical player.
“I’m a physical player who likes to stick up for his teammates,” he said, “but I can play the game, too.”
It’s conceivable that you might see Imama in the NHL someday protecting Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos and Tampa’s other young scorers.
The Color of Hockey’s Lew Serviss contributed mightily to this post.