In recent years, the No. 5 men’s hockey team has had a reputation as a small, quick team that can skate past bigger teams. They proved it last spring during the NCAA Northeast Regional Semifinals when the Elis defeated North Dakota, a team with 16 players who had already been drafted by NHL teams. That year the Bulldogs had none.
After last season ended one step short of the Frozen Four with a loss to Boston College — a team with nine draft picks — the Elis, who start their season this Friday, may be on their way to joining these traditional hockey powerhouses on the recruiting map and have brought in three freshmen who are already NHL draft picks.
Kenny Agostino ’14, drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Gus Young ’14 of the Colorado Avalanche and Brad Peltz ’14 of the Ottawa Senators, will be the first freshmen to bring NHL draft status to the Bulldogs since Patrick Brosnihan ’09, who was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes.
“We think it is an added bonus that NHL scouts see potential in some of our players, and we certainly want to help all of our guys achieve their long term goals,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said in an e-mail. “Our philosophy is that if the team has success then individuals will have success.”
Forward Denny Kearney ’11 said that the team has not had many NHL draft picks in recent years because the Bulldogs’ style of play values speed over size, and the NHL tends not to draft the smaller players who have had success at Yale. But captain and defender Jimmy Martin ’11 said that although Agostino, Young and Peltz are bigger than the average Bulldog hockey player has been in the past, the three still fit into the team’s speed dynamic. The four freshman forwards — Agostino, Peltz, Clinton Bourbonais ’14 and Jesse Root ’14 — average almost one inch taller than the other Yale forwards.
“I wouldn’t say they’re different from other players,” Martin said. “Yale still recruits the same type of kids.”
Forward Brian O’Neill ’12 added that the players add a lot of depth to the team and that the Bulldogs never had this many draft picks in one class.
Jeff Dwyer ’04, director of Education and Recruitment at College Hockey Inc., an organization dedicated to promoting college hockey, said that because there were only 40 college students drafted this past June, their presence on the team indicates the strength of the Yale program.
“I’m seeing it happen a lot more than it used to,” Dwyer said about the NHL’s drafting of high school students.
Steve Conn, director of sports publicity, said NHL-drafted student-athletes are not professional athletes. Dwyer added that when a team drafts an athlete, it has his rights until Aug. 15 following the athlete’s graduation from college.
During that four to five year time period, no other NHL team has the rights to sign that player. After the August deadline, the team can either sign the athlete or release the player as an unrestricted free agent.
Dwyer said an athlete’s NCAA eligibility hinges on the fact that there is no contract signed or monetary exchange between the player and the team that drafts him. If, during his Yale career, a team does decide it wants the athlete to play, the student would have to leave Yale.
“Yale has a great program and a great coaching staff,” Dwyer said. “When [a player] comes out, they hope he’s ready.”
Dwyer added, however, that among the top college hockey players and the top Canadian junior players, less than five percent of those drafted actually make it into an official NHL game. Brosnihan, the former Bulldog NHL draft pick currently plays in the ECHL for the Las Vegas Wranglers.
But Young said an NHL career after college is not currently on his radar. He said he is focused on winning a national championship at Yale before anything else. In fact, other players on the team said that draft status has little to do with the team’s success. Defender Nick Jaskowiak ’12 said the team’s chemistry takes precedence over the single talent of any one player.
Allain added that he has equally high expectations for Root and Bourbonais, the other freshmen on this season’s roster. He also noted that last season Yale finished sixth nationally without a single drafted player and beat multiple teams with multiple drafted players in doing so.
“What matters is how we develop the players we have and how we compete as a team,” Allain said.
“Being drafted is a great accomplishment, but the other two freshmen, Root and Bourbonais, are just as capable of postively contributing to the team as are the other three,” O’Neill said. “Honestly, all of the freshmen are on the same level.”
All three drafted freshmen said that despite their draft status, they intend to play all four years at Yale.
“I knew even if I were to play professional hockey, it would end at some point,” Young said. “I wanted an education for when hockey ends and Yale is one of the best you can get. But, at the same time, the coaches and facilities would give me the best chance to play after college.”
Of all players in the NHL last year, there were only nine below the age of 20. Dwyer said the reason for this is that there are immense benefits for an athlete to play for a college team.
“What happens quite a bit is some kids think they’re ready for the NHL, they leave school, sign a contract, but they’re not ready,” Dwyer said. “They get buried in the minor leagues, their development gets halted, and they are thrown in overhead in the deep end.”
Dwyer said the benefits of going to college include time to mature both as a player and an individual and the opportunity to get bigger, faster and stronger in the weight room.
Agostino, who was two-time New Jersey Player of the Year in high school, said his main goal as a forward for Yale is to be a playmaker. Agostino added, however, that he is young and his draft status does not hold any weight at this point.
“I’m excited to play for Yale hockey,” Agostino said. “This is where I want to be.”
The freshmen hope to make their official hockey debut Friday night against Brown at 7 p.m.