The coronavirus outbreak has made this a unique year for every sports league, including the North American Hockey League.

In response to the pandemic, the NAHL will hold two drafts this offseason. The first will be a three-round supplemental draft Tuesday. The annual entry draft will take place July 21.

The NAHL wants to ensure its teams, which includes the Maine Nordiques, remain competitive with other junior hockey leagues when it comes to signing players, and the supplement draft will allow teams to sell their organization to the players they select.

“I think it was something the league put in place in order to remain competitive with any other league that may be looking to access players, and make sure we have every opportunity as a league to secure the top talent,” Nordiques coach Nolan Howe said. “There’s so much uncertainty with everything that’s going on that we felt it was important to move in the direction that allowed us to secure more assets. I hate to look at a player like that, but they are assets for us and we are assets to them.”

The Nordiques strategy for the draft is the same as any time they try to entice players to commit to the organization.

“For us, we are going to continue to try to bring in young men that want to play for the Maine Nordiques,” Howe said. “I think that’s the number one focus we want to identify, but at the same time try to identify the best talent. I say a lot to our staff — it’s something that’s pretty basic — but put players in a position to be successful is something that we look for.”

 

Getting the top talent is tightrope-balancing act that the Nordiques have to deal with being a Tier II junior hockey league.

The Nordiques dealt with players going up and down the junior hockey ladder between the NAHL and the Tier I United States Hockey League and the NAHL in their first season.

“Looking at (defenseman Andrius) Kulbis-Marino, he was fantastic for us but he wasn’t with us for most of the season,” Howe said. “So, you get the tricky slope. Or a Connor Androlewicz in net, and we lose a man halfway through the year.

“I think there’s a competitive balance of finding the right fit and finding guys that can be good components to our hockey club moving forward. But when it comes to dealing with all the other leagues, it’s highly competitive and trying to showcase we are able to do as an organization.”

Kulbis-Marino started the season with Tri-City Storm of the USHL before joining the Nordiques on Feb. 7. Androlewicz was called up to the USHL for the remainder of the season at the Christmas break after spending three weeks with the Sioux City Musketeers in late November and early December. He finished the season with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL after a trade in late January.

On Wednesday, NAHL teams will be given an extra tender to use for signing an additional player. The Nordiques signed seven tenders so far for 2020-21 season. A tender is a contract that gives a team a player’s NAHL rights, and the player cannot be drafted or signed by another NAHL team. The player, however, can sign with another team in another junior league.

THUNDER CONNECTIONS DRAFTED

The USHL held its two drafts — the Phase I Draft (2004-born players only) and the Phase II Draft (2000- to 2004-born players) — last week, and two players with ties to the Twin City Thunder were selected.

In USPHL NCDC scrimmage, Twin City Thunder forward Levente Keresztes (27) attempts to skate by Patriks Marcinkevics (17) of the Islanders. The Thunder won 5-3. RAM Sports Photography

Levente Keresztes, who had 12 goals and 30 assists in 42 games with the Thunder’s National Collegiate Development Conference team, was drafted by the Youngstown Phantoms in the 14th round in the Phase II draft.

It wasn’t a surprise that the 18-year-old Keresztes got drafted.

“I had some people who scouted him ask about him, to do some background on him,” Thunder co-owner and coach Dan Hodge said. “Great for him, he’s a special player, he’s a young kid that has a huge future, and we are happy for him. Hopefully he will be able to play at that level.”

Keresztes was upfront with the Thunder regarding his desire to play a higher level of junior hockey in 2020-21, but Hodge said the door is always open for him to return.

“He said he was going to see how it played out in the USHL (draft process),” Hodge said. “I think he had been spoken to, as well, by some USHL teams. He told me he was looking at the (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) or the USHL. I am sure some teams have been in contact with him. Of course, you don’t make those thoughts unless you have an idea it’s going to happen. He was very open and honest about it. If things don’t work out, he has a home here.”

If Keresztes goes the QMJHL route, he will forfeit his NCAA eligibility and will have to be selected by a QMJHL team in the Canadian Hockey League’s Import Draft — he is a native of Hungary — which is scheduled to be held June 30.

Last Monday, in the Phase I draft, Thunder Futures draft pick Michael Stenberg went fourth overall to the Des Moines Buccaneers.

The 15-year-old from Needham, Massachusetts, recorded 18 goals and 23 assists in 27 games for Thayer Academy last season. He also had 11 goals and six assists in 19 games with the Cape Cod Whalers’ U16 team.

Former Thunder coach Doug Friedman selected the Penn State commit in the NCDC Futures Draft so Hodge doesn’t have much info on Stenberg. The Boston Herald reported that Stenberg will return to Thayer for 2020-21 since Des Moines won’t have any tryout camps this summer.

THUNDER ADD DEFENSEMAN

The Twin City Thunder added another defenseman for next season, signing Jack Gilligan to a tender.

“He a really good solid defenseman with a great shot and makes a good first pass and really controls in front of the net,” Hodge said. “He’s another guy that plays defense first but can add to the offense. He’s a guy has a really nice, hard shot that we can use on the power play and penalty kill. We can play him every situation.”

Gilligan a Salem, Massachusetts native, will turn 18 at the end of the month. He spent the past four seasons with St. John’s Prep where he tallied four goals and nine assists in 24 games this past season.

Hodge is especially familiar with the St. John’s program, having played for the school.

“It’s a great school and program. Kristian Hanson is a really good coach,” Hodge said. “I spoke with him and he spoke very glowingly about Jack.”

Gilligan, who captained St. John’s the past two seasons, shouldn’t have an issue making the jump to Tier II junior hockey.

“There will be an adjustment period, like anybody else, but he will have time to catch up to the speed,” Hodge said. “Coming from a high-end program and playing against some real high-end hockey teams like Pope Francis, (Boston College) High, all the top schools in Massachusetts, he will adjust quickly. He’s a smart kid and has good aspirations and I don’t think his learning curve will be too long.”


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