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Friday, August 22, 2014

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Two Jewish players chosen in NHL Entry Draft

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Brendan Leipsic [Bryan Heim/Portland Winterhawks photo]

Two Jewish players – one from Nepean, the other from Winnipeg – were among 211 young skaters chosen last week in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Both were taken in the third round; first to go was Oshawa Generals goalie Daniel Altshuller, selected by the Carolina Hurricanes 69th overall.  He was the sixth goaltender chosen. A few picks later, Nashville Predators chose forward Brendan Leipsic, a skater with the Portland Winter Hawks, 89th overall.

Both attended development camps for their pro teams last week.

Altshuller has been on scouts’ radar for some time. Though he played Tier II junior hockey for his hometown Nepean Raiders, he was the starting goalie for the OHL-dominated Team Ontario in the World Under-17 tournament two winters ago. Playing all games, he led the team to a gold medal victory.

Later he did the same as Canada’s number one goalie at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Under-18 Tournament, being named player of the game in the final contest.

He spent the last season in the OHL with the Generals and in 30 games, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound netminder registered a .900 save percentage and a goals-against average of 3.55.

He recently attended Maccabi Canada’s tryout camp for the team it will send to the Maccabiah Games in Israel next summer.

Leipsic, the Winnipeger, plays much bigger than his five-foot-eight 175-pound frame would suggest. He’s considerably under-sized by today’s NHL standards, and didn’t even rate in Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings. In its final placements, he was rated 114th among North American skaters, which should have seen him drafted somewhere in the later rounds.

“I didn’t expect to go this high but Nashville called a couple of times and I knew there was interest and then they traded up to get me  – it’s great to know they like you that much,” Leipsic said.

In 65 games with the Winterhawks, the left winger bulged the twine 28 times and added 30 assists. He added seven goals and eight assists in 20 playoff games. He also spent 82 minutes in the penalty box during the regular season.

If that sounds like a smaller guy playing big – a “shift disturber” in hockey parlance – his coach would agree. “Brendan is an energy guy,” said Winterhawks head coach and GM Mike Johnston. “When he’s emotionally and physically engaged in the game, he sets the bar for the rest of the guys.

“If he’s going to go out and take on 6-foot-2, 200-pound defenceman at his size, then you better expect your other guys to follow,” Johnston is quoted saying on the OregonLive website.

“I only know one way to play and that’s playing with energy. Being a smaller guy, you’ve got to compete as hard as you can and go to those hard areas of the ice. I’ve always played physical ever since I started playing hockey, so ... that’s what I do,” Leipsic said.

Before he chose Leipsic in the WHL draft, Johnston consulted Craig Heisinger, a Manitoba hockey maven and today assistant manager with the NHL Jets, who told him, “You’ve got to take him. This kid, I guarantee you, he’ll play for you. He is the most competitive kid I’ve ever seen. And I don’t care what size he is, he has skill and he competes.”

Preds GM David Poile told the Winnipeg Free Press, “He’s a little bit [Jordin)] Tootoo-ish, a little bit Brad Marchand. I’m sure that the best description would be that he’s not fun to play against, probably the opposition doesn’t like him too much. This is the guy you love but they hate. Not big in stature but plays really tough.”

Leipsic will play for Team Canada at the 2012 Canada-Russia Challenge in August. The Canadian team includes blue chip NHL prospects Mark Scheifele, Mathew Dumba, Morgan Rielly, Griffin Reinhart, Ryan Murray and Jonathan Huberdeau – the cream of the cream of Canadian junior players, many of them first-rounders.

He was recently named Manitoba Jewish Athlete of the Year.

•     •     •

There were plenty of juicy rumours circulating at the draft in Pittsburgh. At one point, the buzz was that the Penguins’ Jordan Staal would be dealt straight up for Carolina Hurricane’s young sniper, Jeff Skinner. In the end, Staal did go to the ‘Canes, but for three players, including centre Brandon Sutter.

“I think Pittsburgh did extremely well,” said Alex Voihanski, who attended the draft.

Voihanski, who is head of JCC Chai Sports, is also general manager of International Scouting Services (ISS), an agency that provides members of the media and NHL teams scouting reports on players from around the world.

Looking at some 2012 selections, Voihansksi said the Maple Leafs did well with the fifth overall pick, Morgan Rielly, who might well be the best defenceman in the draft. But their second selection, Guelph defenceman Matt Finn, was a steal. “We had him as a pretty high prospects in the first round,” he said. “We were shocked he was available in the second round and so was Toronto.”

As for Pittsburgh’s first pick, Derrick Pouliot, which they received from Carolina in the Staal deal, Voinahski said, “I’m not crazy about him. I frankly think they should have taken [Jacob] Trouba.”

Trouba was selected one pick later, ninth overall, by the Winnipeg Jets. Voihanski calls him “a rock solid player. He could make the Jets out of camp.”

Montreal “had the best draft of any team,” he continued. Alex Galchenyuk is a top talent and their second pick, Swedish winger Sebastian Collberg, “is really talented. He has speed, a nose for the net…We had him rated in the first round.”

As for Carolina’s selection of Altshuller, “I emailed him and wished him a mazel tov.

“He’s big and technically sound. When he grown into his body, he’ll be scary, he’s that good.”

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