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VHL 20 in 20 #3: The Freak Draft


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The Freak Draft

Aside from the original dispersal draft, I don’t think any draft comes close to the Season 18 draft in terms of depth. I’ve been around since just after said dispersal draft and while I’ve seen good players get drafted out of the 3rd round (Harvey Singh, Matt Fletcher, Mason Dixon, Jardy Bunclewirth), they were always guys who came out of no where, and had no expectations. Meanwhile, we had guys like Joey Clarence get drafted in the 3rd round of the Season 18 draft. Nobody had low expectations for him. The strength of this draft goes from top to bottom, with one of the best prospects in VHL history, Daisuke Kanou, headlining the class. In the end, I can’t see any draft ever topping Season 18, because Season 18 was easily stronger than any other draft class. No other draft class really comes close, which is why the Season 18 draft has been named “The Freak Draft”.

Even though the draft only happened two seasons ago, and many of the draftees have still yet to make their full impact on the league, we are already saying that the Season 18 draft is the best we’ll ever see. The Season 18 draft is to VHL drafts what Shaun White is to freestyle snowboarding. Nobody comes close to them at the top.

Was the talent of the Season 18 draft easy to detect from the beginning, when players just started to declare for it? Many of these players, before entering The Freak Draft, were entered into the Season 17 VHLM draft. General Managers like Alex Stoyanovich of the Kolari Panthers were the first people who had the opportunity to realize what was coming up in the future.

”When I made my draft board during the offseason, the talent of both the highly scouted players and the unknown commodities already intrigued me. Then, after the preseason started, so much more top-end talent declared their VHL draft eligibility that the player I targeted for fourth overall before the draft ended up falling to us at the tenth spot.” – Alex Stoyanovich

Even at this point, the draft class looked stronger than any other in VHL history. However, it was up to the draftees to remain diligent in their practice, and to stay active. Other drafts have had a good amount of talent at the beginning of their draft season, but at the end, several had gone inactive. This was hardly the case for the Season 18 class. In fact, more players had joined the mix such as Aidan Shaw, Mathias Chouinard, Hamza Ahmed, Roman Andreev, and Abdullah Jabir.

So what motivated these players to go on? Many players, especially those with newer agents, fade away during the season because of discouragement. Especially in such a deep draft, with so much talent, what made some of these guys stick around?

"I think anyone wants to make a name for themselves when people are focusing on other individuals. While it's nice to get attention as a higher pick, I felt pretty motivated because I could be that steal of the draft. Whether or not I was in the spotlight at the time of the draft, I know if I work hard enough that I will be in that light eventually." – Michael Angelo

”On one side, I felt as though that despite my great work ethic coming into the VHL, people considered the other prospects to be better than me and that I could maybe never be as good as any of them. However, this motivated me to try and prove that I could do it to others and to myself. Right now, I consider myself the best prospect heading up to the VHL, so while I was discouraged at first, that discouragement quickly changed to motivation for me.” – Mathias Chouinard

”I hated being thought of as inferior, but a lot of people thought down on me as a prospect because of my inexperience. The thought that Shaw is better than me is one of the biggest things that keeps me working hard, and the fact that he's on a rival team makes it sweeter.” – Joey Clarence

Joey Clarence going to Seattle

The mindset displayed by these players is a mindset that many players should demonstrate. This draft took place when players were getting unheralded amounts of carry-over from previous players. Now, with the TPE carry-over cap coming into play, we hope to see more new players with this mindset in the future.

Coming into draft day, there was no question as to who would go first overall to the HC Davos Dynamo. The 6’4”, 200 lbs Japanese goaltender from Tokyo, Daisuke Kanou, was a shoe-in for that position. The man they call “Godzilla” back in his homeland was seen as one of the greatest prospects we’ve ever encountered in our league’s great history. It just added to the theory that when Japan makes something, they make sure they do it best.

”Goaltending wise, I'd say he's the best prospect ever and it will definitely take a long time (if ever) for another goaltender to bypass what Kanou did pre-draft. He has all the potential in the world and although he wasn't the first goalie taken first overall, he definitely had the most hype.” – Lars Berger

To nobody’s surprise, the big man ended up going 1st overall. After Kanou, however, is where things got interesting. While the Japanese goalie was easily ahead of everyone else, after him was anybody’s guess. There were a number of players who could have gone 2nd overall, and some of those players even fell to the 2nd round.

”Well, with such a deep draft, I honestly had no idea where I would end up going, I only spoke with two teams before the draft. As I was listening in, I was very nervous and had no idea where I would go. Davos finally selected me at 16th and I was very happy to be going there.” – Pekka Jarmuth

From a General Manager’s perspective, there was a lot of work that went into constructing a good draft list. With such a deep draft, it didn’t come down to picking the best player available in round 1, and then picking a random nobody in rounds 2 and 3. Preparing for a draft like this involved much more work prior to the event in order for GMs to ensure that they knew who they wanted at which position. As a former GM, I can say that I never did all that much work on draft day, but I can also say that I was a crummy GM. However, in my defense, most of the drafts I was a general manager for had a clear hierarchy in terms of player rankings. For example, the Season 11 draft featured a clearly defined top 3. Another Japanese player, Ginzou Fujiwara, would be the 1st overall pick to the now defunct Vasteras IK. Leander Kaelin would go 2nd to Calgary, and that left me to pick Carl Jacobs at 3rd overall.

Carl Jacobs on draft day

The toughest draft that I was involved in would be my last draft: the Season 12 draft. That was the year of the big 3: Geoff Gartner, Devon De La Soul, and Matt Bailey. For me, my 1st overall pick would not only become the face of the franchise, but would also take over for me as the general manager of the Helsinki Titans. I contacted all 3 of these men, asking them if they were interested in the job. De La Soul told me that he was not interested, and Gartner told me that he was. I got no response from Bailey until the day of the draft, when everyone (myself included) thought I was picking Geoff Gartner 1st overall. Bailey told me that he was interested in GMing the team, and since he had more TPE than Gartner, I changed my mind at the last minute and surprised everyone. In hindsight, it was the right pick. Gartner would retire only a couple seasons in to his career, while Bailey would take Helsinki to a Continental Cup, and played 8 glorious seasons. He eventually became a teammate of my new client, J.D. Stormwall. What I’m trying to say is that the draft can change things drastically for your team. Without Jacobs and Bailey, the Titans would not have won their 2nd Continental Cup, and I likely would have been known as one of the worst GMs of all time.

In a draft as deep as Season 18, even more pressure is put on the GMs to make the right choices, as they are more at risk to criticism if their picked player fails while everyone around them succeeds. Think of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, where the New York Rangers drafted Hugh Jessiman. Jessiman, at the time, was a great pick, but he is now known as the only player drafted in the 1st round of that draft to never player an NHL game.

”Making the actual picks wasn't all that difficult, but preparing for the draft took a lot of work. I spent a lot of time contacting practically every draftee, from Daisuke Kanou to Kobe Bryant. I began making lists of what the draftees had done and how they had progressed about halfway through Season 17. When it came to making the actual picks, though, I was pretty sure on whom I wanted; there wasn't even that much deliberation before the draft.” – Geno Esposito

Esposito would pick big Finnish center, Jukka Hakkinen, 3rd overall. Following his pick wee the Seattle Bears, who would end up taking Anton Brekker, which began a series of issues between draftee and team.

”After the draft, it didn’t take long before the attitude came out. Brekker had said to Sandro that he didn’t want to play in Seattle because we were not in the process of winning. I had no idea this had been said until after the draft had taken place. We ended up getting him to play in Seattle, but only for a season before we were forced to trade him.” – Greg Harbinson

”Anton had come to me multiple times complaining about being on a losing team and threatening to stop showing up to practice. I managed to calm him down the first couple of times, and everything seemed to go back to normal, but the third and final time, he said he said he would retire unless I traded him. So I started searching for a deal; we needed defensemen badly at the time and had a large pool of forwards, so I wasn't super worried. Greg had been talking to Madrid while I was speaking to New York, and I wasn't ecstatic over the deal that was lined up. But Anton had now started causing problems in the locker room, and drove our captain, Markus Strauss, to tell me to choose between him or Brekker. Considering Brekker was the one that wanted out, I complied, taking the deal from Madrid for Mason Dixon. Brekker bounced around to a few more teams and I just laughed when he wore out his welcome so quickly in Madrid and Calgary. We got rid of a cancer with a $5,000,000 salary.” – Sandro Desaulniers

Anton Brekker on draft day, pretending to be happy?

It is clear that the two general managers of the Seattle Bears were less than impressed by Brekker’s antics, but Brekker made sure that I knew his side of the story as well.

”I decided that I wanted to go back to school and study, instead of practicing in the VHL. I contacted GM Sandro Desaulniers and he did everything he could to get me to stay. It was good on his part because it bought him a few weeks to decide what he wants to do. I then requested a trade, in order to help the team that drafted me get something in return for a prospect who will likely stop coming to practice. The thing is, I decided that I wanted to just stop practicing, but stay on a contending team in hopes of having a cup or two when I came back to the league in full. I questioned GM Sandro on trading me to Madrid, when his co-GM said some things about me that I didn’t like. That's when the motivation kicked in. I decided not to avoid practices, and to keep playing. Seattle has been hurting from the trade, since the recent retirement of Dixon. This makes me happy. – Anton Brekker

While there was no shortage of drama within the top few picks of this draft, the real interesting part of the draft came was we exited the first 10-12 picks and started to see if we would find any steals, even amongst all the amazing depth this draft boasted. I decided to ask a few players about who they thought has been the steal of the draft so far, and while some were humble…

"That is a very difficult question to answer. With the season eighteen draft class, there is more then just a few names. As you can see with the Calgary Wranglers’ picks, there is quality late in the draft as well. I would have to say Mathias Chouinard is the steal of that draft class. He has been a dominant factor for Minot and is incredibly hard to handle on the rush. Hats off to Calgary for that pick." – Michael Angelo

”For now, I have to say that it’s Joey Clarence. Seattle is an up-and-coming team at the moment and his performance has not gone unnoticed. The fact that he went one pick before myself and still managed to hit the VHL this season is a testament to his work ethic. Seattle has a real gem on their hands if he keeps it up.” – Mathias Chouinard

…Others were not as modest.

”I think it’s me. Not even being biased here, but when a team can get a franchise goalie - a guy who shows tons of potential in his first pro season - in the third round of a draft, I just don't think anything can top that. Any of those who say that its Aidan Shaw are just idiotic Toronto fans that don't realize that he has a lot of talent in front of him.” – Joey Clarence

Every draft has people forecasting its “winners and losers”. A winner is a team that gets the best value possible out of as many picks as possible, while a loser is the exact opposite. They either get no value out of their picks, or have no picks at all. Especially in the Season 18 draft, it hurt teams like Madrid and Helsinki to have no picks until later in the draft. However, a team like Calgary was able to make the best of it, and got 2 strong players out of the 3rd round.

Mathias Chouinard going to Calgary on draft day

”It's hard to pick a winner, because so many teams won in their own way. Toronto laid the foundation of a team that will win at least one Continental Cup. Calgary didn't pick in the first two rounds and somehow still ended up with some great players. Riga and New York both ended up with players who now reside in their front offices. Even Seattle, who doesn't have the player they picked fourth anymore, got their franchise goaltender in the third round.” – Alex Stoyanovich

When we look back at the first 20 seasons of the VHL, there is no draft that stands out more than the season 18 draft, despite the fact that it is still a very young draft. Comparing other drafts to this one is difficult, but both late round picks and top picks of the season 18 draft had different experiences than those in other drafts.

"For the most part, it was a completely different experience. There's definitely some similarities between the two draft class' 3rd rounders, as we were both somewhat forgotten, but it was for completely different reasons. Players like myself were practically unknown at the time, and were selected as an afterthought crapshoot, pretty much. The late-round picks in the S18 draft were known, but they were simply buried by the plethora of talent before them. Look at a guy like Joey Clarence; he would be a slam-dunk 1st rounder in any other draft, possibly even a top four pick. But he fell all the way to 19th, because only about two teams needed goalies, and there were other prospects better than him at that point. I was drafted 18th overall in my draft, but I just as easily could have gone later, or not at all. Guys like Eric Lajeunesse, Roman Andreev, Mathias Chouinard, and Hamza Ahmed would have never gone undrafted. In most other drafts, they were 2nd rounders at worst. Players like Mason Dixon and myself would have went 4th round in that draft. Someone like Harvey Singh wouldn't have been drafted at all." – Jardy Bunclewirth

“My draft was viewed as a very weak draft just because it couldn't compare to season 18. The 18th season received a blessing from God, and although season 19 was still a very strong draft, not a single draft in VHL history could compare to season 18.” – Jaroslav Oslig

From Daisuke Kanou at #1 to Abdullah Jabir at #22, this draft is an anomaly in VHL history. Nothing like this has ever been seen before, and it’s doubtful that anything like this will ever happen again. Having 3 full rounds of (at the time) active players is something the VHL had, prior to season 18, only dreamt of, and our dreams came true when this star-studded class came through.

The scary thing is that these players only have 2 seasons as professionals under their belt, and they can stay for up to 6 more. The season 18 draft’s growing influence on the VHL has only begun, and by the time Season 25 comes to a close, we could have some new VHL legends to look up to.

End of Part 3
Special thanks to everyone who responded to my PMs.


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