For some, the glow of the 2016 National Hockey League Draft has long flickered out. Now is the time for sweat and hard work for the players who didn’t have their names called in Buffalo.
Several members of the Undrafted Class of 2016 have scored second chances of sorts with invites to the development camps of NHL teams interested in giving them a look and maybe a spot in their minor league systems.
Right wing Daniel Muzito-Bagenda of the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga Steelheads didn’t get the call during the two-day draft in Buffalo. But he got a call from Buffalo a couple of days later.
The Rochester Americans, the Buffalo Sabres‘ American Hockey League farm team, signed him to a one-year contract. The Swedish Muzito-Bagenda, 20, was ranked the 205th-best draft-eligible North American skater.
He finished fifth on the Steelheads in scoring in 2015-16 with 20 goals and 17 assists in 63 regular season games. He notched 6 goals and 4 assists in seven playoff games.
Muzito-Bagenda attended the Sabres’ development camp last week and played alongside Steelheads teammates Alexander Nylander – the Sabres’ 2016 first-round pick, the eighth player chosen overall – and local boy Austin Omanski, Buffalo’s 2016 seventh-round pick, the 189th player selected.
The Sabres once featured the “French Connection,” the high-scoring line of Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert and Rick Martin. Buffalo, at least for the development camp, could boast the “Mississauga Connection” with Muzito-Bagenda, Nylander and Omanski.
“We know each other from being teammates all last year, so it makes us feel more comfortable out there,” Muzito-Bagenda told the Americans’ website. “That has helped getting to know the other guys here, too.”
Like Muzito-Bagenda, Steelheads team captain Josh Burnside went undrafted. Not ranked by NHL Central Scouting, the 5-foot-11, 186-pound left wing landed a development camp invite from the Washington Capitals.
Burnside, 21, was the Steelheads fourth-leading scorer last season with 13 goals and 32 assists in 55 regular season games. He had 2 goals and 2 assists in seven playoff games.
Youngstown Phantoms right wing Yushiro Hirano is becoming a development veteran. Hirano, the first player born in Japan to skate in the United States Hockey League, was invited to the San Jose Sharks camp.
The Hokkaido native attended the Chicago Blackhawks’ prospects camp last year. Hirano, 20, was ranked the 184th-best North American player in 2016 by NHL Central Scouting prior to the June draft.
He finished third on the Phantoms in scoring in 2015-16 with 24 goals and 22 assists in 54 games.
Left wing Jermaine Loewen of the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers joined Hirano at the Sharks camp.
The 18-year-old is one of hockey’s remarkable stories. Born in Jamaica and adopted from an island orphanage by a white Manitoba family when he was five, Loewen didn’t lace on a pair of skates until he was six -late by Canadian standards.
But he’s making up for lost time. The 6-foot-3, 205 Loewen tallied 8 goals and 7 assists in 67 regular season games for the Blazers last season. He was held scoreless in 37 games in 2014-15.
It seems that no matter where defenseman Jalen Smereck goes, he always manages to surprise and impress. The Detroit area native worked his way from the USHL’s Bloomington Thunder to the Oshawa Generals who took him with the 299th overall pick of the 2013 Ontario Hockey League draft.
He developed into a top defenseman for the Generals last season with 5 goals and 20 assists in 63 games.
Smereck didn’t crack Central Scouting’s rankings and NHL teams passed on him in Buffalo, but the 6-foot, 173-pound alum of the minority-oriented Detroit Hockey Association proved to be one of the highlights of the Arizona Coyotes’s development camp recently.
“Jalen Smereck may be undrafted, but his play Monday looked like he should have been,” the website FanSided reported on its Howlin’ Hockey Coyotes blog. “Smereck played hard on the puck, making it seem like he was bigger than he really was. His puck handling seemed reminiscent of P.K. Subban’s defensive stylings.”
Smereck appears destined to return to the OHL next season. The Generals traded him in the off-season to home state Michigan’s Flint Firebirds. That is, unless he surprises and impresses some more.