The NHL draft is upon us this weekend, and thanks to the ripple effect of the NHL pause, the annual event was moved from its typical June slot to tomorrow.
And as with virtually every sporting event, tomorrow’s proceedings will be different than what we’ve been accustomed to.
No draft combine, no stage, no podium, no traditional boos for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, or gasps and crowd buzz when a trade is announced, no handshakes between selections and the general managers, coaches and scouts of their future team. The event will be held entirely virtually, although teams are trying to making things work to the best of their ability.
It’s the time when NHL teams lay claim to the rights of players aged 18-20 from around the globe. The New York Rangers, by virtue of winning the draft lottery this year, possess the first overall selection, and all indications are they will use that pick to select Alexis Lafrenière from the Rimouski Oceanic.
Fun fact: Lightning prospect Jimmy Huntington was linemates with Lafrenière during the 2018-19 season before signing with the Bolts that summer.
A select few (like Lafrenière) of those drafted will reach the NHL right away, some will take a few seasons of continued development in the amateur ranks before making the jump, and others will forge meaningful careers in the minor leagues across North America or in the top flights in Europe.
Barring a trade, Tampa Bay will not make a selection until the 62nd pick (the final selection) of the second round, having dealt away its original first round pick and an additional first round selection acquired from an earlier trade.
That being said, the Bolts have eight total draft picks this year, their most since 2016, when the team selected 10 players. It should be pointed out that four of Tampa Bay’s selections from that year (Connor Ingram, #88; Oleg Sosunov, #178; Otto Somppi, #206; Ryan Lohin, #208) have played in Orlando in stints over the last two seasons.
It’s somewhat uncommon for players to immediately go to the ECHL following their draft, but that’s what the Solar Bears witnessed this past year when the Lightning selected Mikhail Shalagin and had him signed to an AHL contract with Syracuse - I would advise against anticipating any players selected this week to make their way to Orlando in the near future; it’s more likely you would see a player taken in the draft to be assigned to the Solar Bears further down the line in their career in subsequent seasons.
In any case, here’s an excellent retrospective from Sports Illustrated/The Hockey News on how the Lightning were able to pluck Brayden Point in the third round.
How to Watch the 2020 NHL Draft:
Round 1 - Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSNRounds 2-7 - Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 11:30 a.m. on NBCSNLive Stream: NBCSports.com
Over the years the Solar Bears have had numerous former NHL draft picks spend a portion of their careers in Orlando. Whether it was during their time as a prospect in their early formative years, or as a veteran in the twilight of their career, we wanted to see what an all-NHL draft pick lineup of the Solar Bears might look like. This fantasy All-Draft Team consists of 18 players - 10 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders - a typical ECHL lineup. Special consideration was given to players who had a significant impact during their time in Orlando, or have had a notable career.
Chris LeBlanc - 2013, Ottawa, sixth round, #161 overall - LeBlanc turned pro at the end of the 2016-17 season in the Senators’ farm system but was allowed to walk as a free agent at season’s end. Ottawa’s loss has been Orlando’s gain since then, as the forward is utilized in virtually every situation and ascended to the team captaincy this past season. He has scored more career points for the Solar Bears (95) than any other player that was an NHL draft selection.
Troy Bourke - 2012, Colorado, 3rd round, #72 overall - In a year in which Bourke yo-yo’d back and forth between Orlando and AHL Syracuse, the forward put up an eye-popping 45 points in 30 games - that’s a 1.5 points per game average - truly staggering numbers. He also served as an alternate captain who quietly led by example.
Hunter Fejes - 2012, Phoenix, 6th round, #178 overall - A trade with Wheeling in early January of 2018 brought Fejes to Orlando, where the forward played for parts of the past three seasons. Arguably the fastest player in team history, Fejes is the team’s all-time leading postseason scorer with 17 points in 17 playoff games.
Otto Somppi - 2016, Tampa Bay, 7th round, #206 overall - The Lightning prospect took home ECHL Goal of the Year honors in 2018-19 for his lacrosse goal against the Florida Everblades, and was over a point-per-game pace in his time with Orlando. Somppi remains a member of the Lightning pipeline as enters the final year of his entry-level contract with the Lightning after spending the entirety of last season in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch.
Brent Pedersen - 2013, Carolina, fifth round, #126 overall - After a solid major junior career in the OHL, Pedersen did not sign with the Hurricanes, and instead took advantage of his tuition package at Laurentian University. After graduating he signed with the Solar Bears in the summer of 2018 and split his rookie season between Orlando and AHL Manitoba. That relationship eventually led to signing a full-fledged AHL deal for the 2020-21 season. Pedersen has only played 36 career games in the ECHL, producing at a point-per-game pace.
Taylor Matson - 2007, Vancouver, 6th round, #176 overall - Matson was over a point per game while with Orlando in his first full season of professional hockey, and - along with undrafted forwards Jacob Cepis and ECHL MVP Mickey Lang - helped propel the Solar Bears to their first appearance in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Nick Petersen - 2009, Pittsburgh, 4th round, #121 overall - The first month of success in Orlando’s first ECHL season can largely be credited to the performance of Petersen, who led the league in scoring in October of 2012, and consequently earned ECHL Player of the Month honors. He spent the majority of the season in the AHL with Houston, before departing for Europe the following summer.
Martins Dzierkals - 2015, Toronto, 3rd round, #68 overall - Dzierkals dazzled with his offensive talents on display during his time with Orlando in 2017-18, with his coast-to-coast goal against Greenville standing out in particular. When Dzierkals found the back of the net that season, Orlando was 15-0-0-0. The Latvian forward has since taken his pro career back to Europe.
Brady Vail - 2012, Montreal, 4th round, #94 overall - After LeBlanc, Vail is the highest-scoring former NHL draft pick with 87 points (35g-52a) in 134 career games with Orlando.
Chris Crane - 2010, San Jose, 7th round, #200 overall - One of Drake Berehowsky’s first moves after returning to Orlando in November of 2016 was flipping Bryan Moore and the rights to Rylan Schwartz to Allen for Crane. Over the next two seasons, the forward established himself as a dependable two-way presence in the lineup.
Honorable mention: Stefan Della Rovere, Olivier Fortier, Ryan Reaves, Jonne Tammela,
Michael Brodzinski - 2013, San Jose, 5th round, #141 overall - In a span of only two seasons, Brodzinski has thrust himself into the conversation for not just best Solar Bears defenseman, but best player - period. Another full season matching the production of his prior two could establish him as the team’s top-scoring defenseman of all time.
Bryce Aneloski - 2010, Ottawa, 7th round, #196 overall - Unsigned by the team that drafted him, Aneloski turned pro after departing the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2013 and won a Central League title with the Allen Americans that spring before signing with Orlando for his rookie season. Over the next two years, Aneloski patrolled the blue line for Orlando and established himself as a key part of those Vince Williams-coached teams. He’s also the only defenseman in team history to record a hat trick.
Blake Kessel - 2007, N.Y. Islanders, 6th round, #166 overall - Over two separate stints with the Solar Bears, Kessel was a proficient puck-moving defenseman who made a number of offensive contributions from the blue line. This past season, Kessel returned to the organization and provided veteran leadership.
Taylor Doherty - 2007, San Jose, 2nd round, #57 overall - Doherty certainly made an impact in his first stint with the Solar Bears, and was a big presence on the blue line, especially in the legendary 2017 playoff meeting with Florida.
Akim Aliu - 2007, Chicago, 2nd round, #56 overall - Aliu’s time in Orlando during the 2018-19 season was slightly shortened due to injuries and a brief call-up to the AHL, but the defenseman was impactful when in the lineup and healthy. Nearly a point-per-game player (11 in 14 regular season games), Aliu was part of the squad that advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Sean Zimmerman - 2005, New Jersey, 6th round, #170 overall - Fresh off of winning his first pro championship with the Colorado Eagles, Zimmerman signed with Orlando in the summer of 2017 hoping to bring some of that playoff magic to the Solar Bears. While Orlando did not take the title that season, Zimmerman did captain the squad to its first-ever playoff series victory, with a four-game sweep of South Carolina in the first round.
Honorable Mention: Sam Jardine, Eric Knodel, Max Nicastro, Matthew Spencer, Cody Wild
Garret Sparks - 2011, Toronto - 7th round, #190 overall - The man is simply a legend in Solar Bears circles for his time in Orlando. A robust .936 save percentage in the 2014-15 season to lead the ECHL, along with an impressive Bear Guitar shredding display at the 2015 ECHL All-Star Classic and his participation in a memorable brawl with the Gwinnett Gladiators cemented his legacy.
Zachary Fucale - 2013, Montreal, 2nd round, #36 overall - Were it not for his decision to leave for an opportunity overseas last season and the coronavirus pandemic, Fucale would have formed half of an outstanding one-two tandem in goal with Clint Windsor down the stretch for the Solar Bears in 2019-20. The former Canadiens prospect is signed with the Washington Capitals for the 2020-21 season.
Honorable mention: Christopher Gibson, Darcy Kuemper, Martin Ouellette
Last year, three former IHL Solar Bears players/coaches saw family members selected in the draft. Orlando-born Jack Hughes (son of assistant coach Jim) was the first overall selection to New Jersey. Los Angeles took center Alex Turcotte, son of Alfie, with the fifth pick in the first round, while defenseman Pat Neaton’s son Logan, a goaltender, went #144 overall in the fifth round to Winnipeg.
This year, two draft-eligible prospects have family connections to the IHL Solar Bears:
Seamus Campbell - No. 195-ranked North American skater - His uncle, Ed, was an eighth-round pick by the New York Rangers in 1993 (190th overall) and had a 15-season professional career with stops in the AHL, IHL, UHL, ECHL, Italy, SPHL, CHL and FPHL. Ed Campbell played 81 games for the Solar Bears in 1999-00, producing 10 points (2g-8a) and 217 penalty minutes.
Christian Miller - No. 205-ranked North American skater - His father, Kris, was a fourth-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 1987 (80th overall) and had an 11-season professional career with stops in the AHL, IHL, ECHL, United Kingdom and Switzerland. His uncle, Kurt, was a sixth-round pick by the St. Louis Blues in 1990 (117th overall) and had a 10-season professional career with stops in the AHL, ECHL, UHL, IHL, Germany and Switzerland. Both of the elder Miller brothers played in Orlando, with Kris appearing in 41 games in 1996-97, while Kurt got into five games with the Solar Bears the following year.
Jesse Liebman is the director of communications and broadcasting for the Orlando Solar Bears and enters his sixth season behind the microphone as the team’s play-by-play voice for the 2020-21 season. Use the form below to shoot him your questions, comments or blog ideas.