Berwick, N.S. – By all accounts, the St. Stephen Aces hockey team had a successful draft weekend.
Hosted by the Valley Wildcats in Berwick, N.S., the Aces had the luxury of three first round picks. Here’s an in depth look into each draft pick, with comments from head coach and general manager Emery Olauson.
1. Zachary Alchorn, 1st overall. A right-wing forward from the Saint John Vitos of the NB/PEI Major Midget Hockey League (NBPEIMMHL).
Alchorn, soon to be 17, was the second leading scorer in the regular season for the Vitos last season with 47 points in 34 games (24 goals, 23 assists) and logged 32 penalty minutes. With two years of midget under his belt, Alchorn, a Grand Bay-Westfield native, appeared with the Aces for one game as an affiliate on Dec. 2, 2017.
“He is probably the best player available we thought, most ready to step into a lineup,” Olauson said, noting he feels there’s a possibility Alcorn will be taking the NCAA route in the future.
Olauson indentified Alchorn as a “high-end, all around player” who “did it all” in his tenure with the Vitos, mostly putting points up.
“He’s got great size; he’s a fine skater with a good, quick release. He finds the net when he shoots, and he has the vision to not always shoot. He plays the game and makes decisions at a fairly high level.”
2. Jack Morris, 1st round, 2nd pick. Defenceman from the Cape Breton West Islanders of the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League (NSMMHL).
The 17-year-old, 6’1’’ defenceman from Antigonish was fourth in scoring with his team last season, with 36 points in 36 games (nine goals, 27 assists).
“You take the defencemen in Atlantic Canada in the draft, he was the best one,” Olauson said, but noted Morris will be trying out for the Rimouski Océanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“He does have a good shot of making it, but we thought it’d be silly not to take Morris with our 2nd overall pick in the event he ends up in our league, because as a 17-year-old, he will be an impact player next year,” Olauson added.
“Morris is going to be close, but in the event that Rimouski’s got a good team and they’ve got a good D-core, so if he ends up in St. Stephen, we’re going to be very fortunate and obviously adding a defenceman like Jack Morris will be huge, especially as a 17-year-old.”
3. Ethan Stuckless, 1st round, 3rd pick. Forward from the East Coast Blizzard of the Newfoundland and Labrador Major Midget Hockey League (NLMMHL).
The 17-year-old from Conception Bay, N.L. was the leading scorer in the regular season with 42 points in 32 games (25 goals, 17 assists.)
Olauson identified Stuckless as a “very high-end, great player.”
“Once we started digging into to Newfoundland, his name kept coming up. (Stuckless has) a great work ethic, leader on his team, very good things from everyone we talked to in Newfoundland.”
4. Andrew Antle, 2nd round, 1st pick. Forward from the Western Kings of the NLMMHL.
The 18-year-old from Corner Brook, N.L., put up 57 points in 32 games (27 goals, 30 assists) last season, and was the leading scorer in the regular season as well as in the post-season.
“It’s kind of a funny thing, when you look him up on the league prospects, he’s listed as quite small, and he isn’t,” Olauson chuckled of the player’s height listed as 5’7’’, and added Antle is a “high-end offensive talent.”
“I think St. Stephen didn’t score enough goals last year and that’s something we’d like to remedy. Not every player that we draft is going to step into the junior A level and contribute offensively right away but seeing they’ve done it at the major midget level, it is only a matter of time,” Olauson added. He said “we want to develop these kids and give them the structure to transition to the junior A level, that they can be major impact players.”
5. Cole Vardy, territorial round, 1st pick. Defenceman from the Cole Harbour Wolf Pack of the NSMMHL.
Identified by Olauson as “a defensive defenceman”, Vardy is a 6’2’’ 195 lb.,18- year-old defenceman of Hammonds Plains, N.S. Vardy logged 13 points in 36 games (two goals, 11 assists) last season and had 36 penalty minutes.
Olauson also said Vardy is a physical defenceman, but said his name was another that kept coming up in the major midget circles prior to the draft.
“A player that opponents really notice, that opposing coaches wish they didn’t have to play against. His coach had a lot of good things to say – his presence in the room, good kid and he does have that big frame that you can’t teach. Having that presence in front of our net will help our goaltenders out.”
6. Jacob Christie, 2nd territorial, 1st pick. Defenceman from the Steele Subaru Major Midgets of the NSMMHL.
“He’s an asset in this league, and we feel he will be playing in the MHL over the next two years,” Olauson said. “He’s a good defenceman available in the middle rounds of the draft.”
7. Nick French, 4th round, 70th pick. Forward from the St. John’s Maple Leafs of the NLMMHL. French, a 17-year-old from Mount Pearl, N.L., put up 33 points in 30 games (15 goals, 18 assists) last season, and was fourth in scoring in the regular season.
“Nick French was a very high recommendation. The points were there to support that he can make the transition,” Olauson said, and noted the Aces staff anticipated French would be picked in the first five rounds.
“When we saw his name still on the board, we were very excited about it.”
8. Liam Smith, 6th round, 96th pick. Forward from the Western Kings of the NLMMHL.
A teammate of Antle’s, Smith was the second leading scorer in the regular season with 39 points in 31 games (21 goals, 18 assists).
An 18-year-old “scoring machine” from Corner Brook, Smith, said Olauson, is very strong offensively, and noted his surprise at his availability late in the draft.
“Based on everything that we had heard from the Newfoundland circles, his name kept coming up. Very good offensive abilities and a good work ethic.”
9. Ryan Richards, 7th round, 108th pick. Forward from Kensington Wild of the NBPEIMMHL.
From Cornwall, this 18-year-old logged 34 points in 35 games (10 goals, 24 assists) in the regular season, and had 102 penalty minutes.
“(Richards) is the player, if you’re watching the NHL, he’s the Brad Marchand,” Olauson said, adding Richards is a “gritty player.”
“Not only can he get it done offensively for himself and his own team, but he has the ability to put the other team off their game.”
10. Erik MacInnis, 8th round, 109th pick. Goalie from Charlottetown Pride of NBPEIMMHL.
MacInnis posted a 4-8 record last season, with a.890 save percentage and 3.73 goals against, but Olauson said he suffered an injury during the season, which dropped his draft status.
“We had him in our top two, in goaltenders at that 17-year-old age category coming up for next year. We anticipate whether it’s for the St. Stephen Aces or he plays another year midget, he’s going to have a breakthrough year next year and we think that our No. 10 pick could have been the steal of the draft.
“I think he’s certainly one of the top five goaltenders in Atlantic Canada at the 17-year-old age category. We think he’s going to come to camp and he’s going to shock everyone. His trajectory puts him in a path that puts him right on top; we think the sky’s the limit for Erik.”