It was a banner day and one the NAHL will long remember as the 2018 National Hockey League (NHL) Draft wrapped up its second day on Saturday, June 23rd at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.
In all, nine players that play or have previously played in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) were taken in the draft. It is the most players taken with NAHL experience since the 2010 NHL Draft when the NAHL had 16 players with NAHL experience selected, which included those from the NTDP team when they were members of the league until 2009.
“This is part of the continuing evolution of the North American Hockey League. Players are getting more exposure, more opportunities for advancement, and as a result more and more of them are worthy of consideration by NHL teams during the draft,” said NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “Having our coaches at the event was a great experience for everyone and we are thrilled at how the weekend went. We continue to see incredible numbers of NHL scouts at our events and because our players are competing at such a high level, we have been able to enjoy continued success at the NHL Draft. We congratulate all those players selected.”
The list of those selected included Lone Star Brahmas goalie Mitchell Gibson, who was the NAHL Goaltender and Rookie of the Year this past season. Gibson was the first American-born goaltender selected in the 2018 NHL Draft when the Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals selected him #124 overall in the 4th Round.
“I knew Washington was a possibility, but you never know. It really is a dream come true. After this past year, I had a lot of confidence in my game and myself. I was real excited to get an opportunity with Lone Star in the NAHL this year,” said Gibson, who attended the draft with his parents.
The 6’1/186 lbs. native of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, who is committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at Harvard University, tied an NAHL single-season record with 11 shutouts in 2017-18. Gibson also finished the regular season leading in the NAHL in goals against average (1.59) and save percentage (93.5%), which were both the lowest numbers in the league since the 2014-15 season. He was also 2nd in wins with 26 and played in the 2018 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament for one of two NAHL Selects teams. The last goalie to win both the NAHL Goaltender of the Year and NAHL Rookie of the Year honors in the same season was current Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who did it in 2011-12 with the Odessa Jackalopes.
In the 7th round, Janesville Jets forward Jakov Novak heard his name called by the Ottawa Senators with the 188th overall pick in the 7th round. The NAHL Most Valuable Player and Forward of the Year from the 2017-18 season put together a remarkable season for the Jets. Novak, who is committed to play NCAA Division I hockey for Bentley University in the fall, led all NAHL players in scoring during the regular season with 73 points in 56 games played. That included 32 goals, which also tied for the NAHL lead. He also led the NAHL with a +41 rating during the regular season, showing his talent at both ends of the ice. Novak (6’3/200) was also selected to and played in the 2018 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament, where he improved his NHL Draft stock by recording four points in two games for one of the two NAHL Selects teams. In his two-year NAHL career, he has recorded 101 points in 108 career regular season games.
“I’m honored to be part of such an unbelievable organization and beyond excited for what the future holds,” said Novak. “Honestly, I’m at a loss for words. I’m super excited and can’t wait to get things going. Training camp starts Monday.”
Janesville Jets Owner and President Bill McCoshen, who is also the NAHL’s Chairman of the Board, attended the Draft and offerered his thoughts about Novak getting drafted, as well as, the NAHL’s big day. “You may not finish here, but it is a great place to start and increase your development and move on. It is obvious that players in the NAHL are getting noticed. I think the level of our coaching is a main reason more and more guys are getting committed to NCAA schools and drafted by NHL teams.”
“When Jakov was selected I cheered. To have a kid like Jakov develop like he did in a one-year period was incredible. His development was spectacular. He put in the work off the ice to get stronger and faster and everything worked,” said McCoshen.
The other seven NAHL players drafted were all recent players in the league and include (alphabetical):
Paul Cotter, F, Brookings Blizzard (Vegas Golden Knights, Round 4/#115): The native of Canton, Michigan, led the Blizzard in scoring during the 2016-17 regular season with 60 points, which included 28 goals and 32 assists. His 60 points was tied for 6th among all NAHL players and earned him NAHL Rookie of the Year honors. Cotter committed to Western Michigan during his year in the NAHL and will play for the Broncos in 2018-19.
Mikael Hakkarainen, F, Brookings Blizzard (Chicago Blackhawks, Round 5/#139): The native of Espoo, Finland had an incredible rookie season for the Blizzard in the NAHL in 2015-16. Hakkarainen, who is committed to play at Providence College this upcoming season, recorded 40 points in 54 regular season games and was named to the All-NAHL Rookie 2nd Team in 2015-16.
Cole Koepke, F, Minnesota Wilderness (Tampa Bay Lightning, Round 6/#183): The native of Hermantown, Minnesota joined the Wilderness in the NAHL towards the end of the 2015-16 season. In total he played in 17 games, which included nine during the regular season and eight more during the Robertson Cup Playoffs. Koepke will be playing at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2018-19.
Brandon Kruse, F, Brookings Blizzard (Vegas Golden Knights, Round 5/#135): Kruse is a great ladder of development success story, who rocketed up the draft board after his one season in the NAHL with the Blizzard in 2016-17 and then an incredible rookie season in the NCAA this past year at Bowling Green. The native of Saline, Michigan, had 46 points in 59 games played for the Blizzard in 2016-17 and also committed to Bowling Green. During his freshman season at Bowling Green in 2017-18, he recorded 33 points in 41 games played.
Jake Kucharski, G, Austin Bruins (Carolina Hurricanes, Round 7/#197): Kucharski had climbed the ladder of development, which dates back all the way to the Esmark Stars 16U team of the NAPHL during the 2015-16 season. The native of Erie, Pennsylvania, then went onto the NAHL the following season in 2016-17 with the Austin Bruins. Kucharski played in 34 games and posted a goals against average of 3.31 and a save percentage of .894. He is committed to play at Providence College during the 2019-20 season.
Ivan Prosvetov, G, Minnesota Magicians (Arizona Coyotes, Round 4/#114): Prosvetov spent the entire 2016-17 season with the Minnesota Magicians in the NAHL. He also played in the 2017 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament where he first caught the eye of NHL scouts. During the 2016-17 season in the NAHL, the native of Moskva, Russia, played in 44 regular season games and posted a goals against average of 2.52 and a save percentage of .928.
Nathan Smith, F, Aberdeen Wings (Winnipeg Jets, Round 3/#91): Smith, who is committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at Minnesota State-Mankato this upcoming season, played in the NAHL for a small portion of the 2016-17 season. The native of Hudson, Florida, recorded two points in four games with the Wings.