Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Traverse City drafts Stephens, Weber

Out with the old, in with the nucleus.

After losing All-NAHL defenseman Nick Von Bokern to the league’s age limit and fellow rearguard Eric Scovill to the University of Wisconsin-Stout, the Traverse City North Stars added a pair of blueliners to the fold last Tuesday through the North American Hockey League’s entry draft.

The third-year club tabbed Blind River (Ont.) defenseman Tyler Stephens in the first round of the draft, and took a chance on all-everything phenom Will Weber of Gaylord High School with the team’s second-round selection.

“We needed to get stronger on defense,” explained Anthony Palumbo after conducting his first draft as TC’s GM. “We have some solid defensemen who are eligible to return (next season), but we wanted to bolster that group as best we could.”

Stephens played for the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Blind River Beavers last year - the same club that seasoned former North Stars standout Jake Erway - scoring thrice and assisting on 11 others in 41 contests. He amassed just 46 penalty minutes over that span, while shoring up the Beavers’ own end of the ice.

“Tyler’s a solid defensive defenseman with offensive skills to boot,” said Palumbo, who tendered offensive-minded blue-liner Phil Wendecker of Livonia Churchill High School on Monday. “He’s got a year of Junior A experience and he’s a solid kid. I’ve known their family for 15 years. He’s also already being scouted by Division I coaches, too.”

Stephens, who prepped at Rockford High School, says he’s been waiting for the draft since his stellar showing at the Toronto Prospects camp in Ontario two weeks ago.

“I’m very excited,” said the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder. “I’ve worked hard to get to this point and I will continue to be a hard worker. I love Traverse City and can’t wait for the June camp. I hope I can contribute to a very successful season up there.”

Weber was the first overall selection by Chicago in the United States Hockey League draft. The Gaylord product was an All-State Dream Team selection, Traverse City Record-Eagle All-Region Dream Team captain and Team Michigan invitee after posting an 18-goal, 20-assist senior campaign. Weber, who has drawn numerous NHL scouts to his prep games, has already committed to the University of Miami of the CCHA and is likely to stick with Chicago in the USHL next year.

However, Palumbo didn’t want to take a chance on Weber opting for another NAHL destination.

“It’s a shot,” Palumbo admitted. “We wanted to be there as an option for the kid. We have a solid program that’s close to his home. We’d love to have him, but so would everyone else. We felt it was worth taking the chance.”

With the two draft picks and seven tenders extended for 2007-08, the North Stars could have as many as nine exclusive-rights newcomers. In addition to Stephens, Weber and Wendecker, the team holds the rights to forwards Eric O’Hearn (Traverse City Central, Soo Indians), Eric McLintock (TC Central, Soo Indians), Sean Burke (TC West), and former North Stars winger Marc Thompson (Soo Indians). Additionally, the club tendered ex-TC Central all-state forward Alex Redmond late Monday. Defenseman Trevor Shively, brother of current TC netkeep Stefan Shively, was the franchise’s first tender of the year.

“We think it’s a pretty solid group,” Palumbo surmised. “We’re excited to get everybody in for the June (tryout) camp to see exactly how they look, and how they work together.”

PIETILA DEALT: Palumbo sent winger Aaron Pietila to Marquette before the draft in exchange for a 2008-09 tender. Pietila, who logged 11 goals and 21 assists in 54 contests for Traverse City last year, will join his cousin with the second-year Rangers.

“Aaron wanted to be with his cousin and he has family up there, so we wanted to help him be where he wanted to be,” Palumbo explained.

Pietila, a Brighton native, also drew interest from some USHL teams, including the Green Bay Gamblers and Tri-City Storm.

No comments: