Saturday, May 01, 2010

Whalers tab Iafrate with first round pick

The Plymouth Whalers didn't have to go far for their first pick in Saturday's Ontario Hockey League draft.

In fact, they selected a Plymouth season ticket holder.

In the first round (15th overall), the Whalers stayed with their theme of picking local players in selecting Belle Tire U-16 defenseman Max Iafrate.

Iafrate – the son of former National Hockey League defenseman Al Iafrate – scored 15 goals with 14 assists for 29 points and 167 penalty minutes in 63 games last season.

Central Scouting had this assessment of Iafrate:

“Iafrate is a high risk-high reward defenseman who has a ton of physical tools and competes at a very high and consistent level. He has good size, which he uses to take the man and finish his checks, generally playing the game with and edge. Iafrate also has very good feet, displaying quickness and mobility. He also possesses a better then average stick, displaying the ability to move and handle the puck with some confidence while showing the potential to add and chip in some offensive contributions to his team’s game.”

Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci played with Al Iafrate with the Belleville Bulls in 1983-84. Al Iafrate’s mother, Alice, worked for the Whalers back in their days in Detroit as the Compuware Ambassadors and Jr. Red Wings.

Iafrate met the Whalers staff Saturday morning.

“My main goal this year was to get drafted into the first round in the Ontario Hockey League," he said. "I worked hard for this. It’s even better that I was taken by Plymouth. There’s some real history here with Mr. Karmanos, the fact that Mr. Vellucci played with my dad and my grandmother worked here.”

Iafrate gave a self-assessment of his game.

“I like to be an offensive defenseman," he said. "I like to hit. I like to rush the puck a lot. I’ll shoot it (the puck) from the point.

“Because of my grandmother, I have season tickets to Whalers games. I’ve watched them a lot."

Former Peterborough Petes GM Jeff Twohey gave this assessment of Iafrate:

“Max Iafrate’s going to be fun to watch,” Twohey said. “To me, he’s a clear comparison to PK Subban (now with the Montreal Canadiens). He’s dynamic with his skating ability and his ability to move up the ice. He’ll get the puck up the ice quickly, he’s a player with high skill and has very good quickness.”

Plymouth scouting director Don Harkins gives his assessment:

“Max is a big, strong kid who skates like an NHLer already. He shoots and passes the puck well. We think he’s got a lot of upside.”

Plymouth took 6-foot-3, 190 pound right wing Tom Wilson with their pick in the second round (27th overall). Wilson scored 41 goals with 38 assists for 79 points and 130 penalty minutes in 59 games for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens last season.

Central Scouting’s assessment:

“Wilson is a big, physical winger who displays a real scoring touch around the net and has the potential to develop into a power forward at the next level. He has legitimate size and a great stick. The strength of his game is his ability to finish and put the puck in the net. He might not be the prettiest, but he could be one of the more natural finishers in this age group. He displays a real ability to put the puck in the net, and he really takes advantage of his chances.”

“We needed to upgrade our toughness and size, “said Harkins. “Thomas is a complete power forward. He gets in deep and creates a lot of space for the other skilled players that he plays with on his line. We’re ecstatic to get Thomas where we got him."

Wilson was talked about on the Ontario Hockey League draft show this morning:

“Wilson’s a quality kid,” said scout Tim Cherry. “He has the ability to work down low and score goals. He has the heart and ability to impose his size on the opposition and can play either wing. He’s a big kid who brings character to the rink and comes from a good family. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him play center at some point. He’s well versed with good hockey sense and plays with skill.”

The Whalers had to wait until the fifth round (95th overall) for their next selection – right wing-center Ryan Hartman, who scored 25 goals with 19 assists for 44 points and 64 PIMs in 38 games last year for Chicago Mission.

Hartman is 5-feet-9 and 170 pounds from West Dundee, Ill.

Central Scouting’s assessment:

“Hartman is a skilled, two-way forward that has shown steady improvement since the start of the season. He has played both on the wing and down the middle but his skill set and style of play seem to have him suited to play down the middle at the next level. When he is playing center he just seems to play with a little more confidence, while being more involved on a consistent basis. He has a very good stick, displaying a ton of composure and patience when he has possession of the puck. He carries the puck and generally plays the game at a high speed.”

“We thought he was the best forward at the US National 40-man camp,” said Harkins. “We think he’s going to get bigger, much like (2009 draft pick) Sean Kuraly did this year (he grew four inches this year). We think that Ryan has a ton of upside and can be a real pro prospect down the road.”

Harkins gave qualified opinions on the rest of Plymouth’s selections:

Sixth round (115) – Ryan Ivey, defenseman, TPH Thunder in Atlanta, (3-6-9 in 20 games):

“He continues to grow and is up to 6-feet-1. We think he has a lot of upside. The TPH program doesn’t get a lot of exposure, but it is high-end AAA hockey and we like his upside. We look forward to him coming to play for our midget team next year.”

Seventh round (135) – Jake Patterson, goaltender, Sault Ste. Marie North Stars (2.78 goals against and three shutouts on a team that went 27-3-3-1):

“We’re excited with our two goaltenders next year in Scott Wedgewood and Matt Mahalak. Patterson’s a potential goaltender of the future. Our Sault Ste. Marie scout – Mike Oliverio – likes him a lot.”

Eighth round (155) – Brodie Tutton, right wing, Clarington Toros:

“At this point in the draft, we went looking for a goal scorer and he was the best player available for us. He played on the same line as Garrett Hooey (taken in the second round by Sarnia).”

Eighth round (159) – John Stevens, right wing, Team Comcast-National in Philadelphia, who scored 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points with 29 PIM’s in 34 games. He is the son of former Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Stevens.

“John’s a character kid and a good centerman who wins face offs and distributes the puck well. He’s a good, two-way centerman.”

Ninth round (175) – Mark Yanis, defenseman, Belle Tire U16’s, who played with Iafrate and scored six goals with 16 assists for 22 points and 212 PIMs in 64 games.

“There was some speculation that Mark was going to go the U.S. college route. Even so, we thought we’d take a chance on a local kid who we think is a high-end player.”

10th round (190) – Jared Dennis, center, Windsor midgets, who scored eight goals with 11 assists for 19 points and eight PIMs in 30 games.

“He’s very talented and tough. One of our scouts said he’ll make training camp interesting. You always like those types of guys.”

"A lot of skill and he just has to learn to step up,” said Kitchener Rangers head scout Mike Sadler. “He can skate, he can dominate at times and he understands the game well. He has the skills to be great if he wants to be."

10th round (195) – Joe Cox, right wing, Detroit Compuware U-16’s, who scored 30 goals with 30 assists for 60 points in 71 games.

“We felt he was the heart-and-soul of that Compuware team last year. In big games, he really stepped up. We always look for the type of kids who show character and leadership at this point in the draft.”

11th round (215) – Gavin Shantz, defenseman, Mississauga Rebels – a team that won the OHL Cup in March.

“Gavin had a coming out party at the GTHL All-Star game and we really liked him then. He’s a big, rangy left-shot defenseman that continues to get better and better. We like his potential.”

12th round (235) – Ryan Lowney, defenseman, Detroit Compuware U-16’s, who scored four goals with 19 assists for 23 points and 22 PIM’s in 38 games.

“Ryan’s one of the best pure skaters in the draft. He’s extremely intelligent. He reminds me of (2007 Plymouth draft pick and current Michigan State defenseman) Torey Krug. He’s a smaller defenseman, but Ryan has great hockey sense and a tremendous skater.”

13th round (255) – Brandon Pantaleo, left wing, Markham Waxers, who scored 35 goals with 51 assists for 86 points and 28 PIM’s in 67 games.

“He played with a young man by the name of Brandon Cox and put up some big numbers. We expect him to do the same in Plymouth.”

14th round (275) – Sheldon Dries, center, Detroit Honeybaked U-16s, who scored 28 goals with 12 assists for 40 points and 50 PIMs in 36 games.

“They say that some players happen to play hockey, but others are hockey players. Sheldon is a hockey player. I’ve known him for a number of years. He competes, block shots and does all the little things. He has great hockey sense and we love his compete level.”

15th round (295) – Matteo Condotta, left wing, who played for the Mississauga Senators.

“It’s just an opportunity for a kid.”

Harkins summarized the Whalers 2010 draft.

“We like guys who compete and we took some guys with skill and toughness,” he said. “Hartman and Ivey are part of the 1995 draft class because they’re late 94’s, so we like that kind of potential. We took a goaltender for the future in Patterson. We took some chance on some other guys, but on draft day, everyone likes their draft. That’s how we feel."

Plymouth fans will have a chance to see many of the new Whalers during the team’s annual rookie orientation, being held May 15-16 at Compuware Arena.

Iafrate photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

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