PHANTOMS HOCKEY 9 NAHL players drafted by NHL
Two were selected in the top 10 of last month's delayed draft.
BOARDMAN -- The North American Hockey League, which includes the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, saw nine of its players selected in the recent NHL draft.
Phantoms coach Bob Mainhardt knew firsthand that Jack Johnson and Jack Skille were highly skilled hockey players.
The Phantoms faced Johnson, Skille and the U.S. National Under-18 team four times last season.
Johnson was the first defenseman selected and third overall by the Carolina Hurricanes and right winger Skille was taken seventh overall by the Chicago Blackhawks.
"I think they both knew that the NHL would be a real possibility this season," Mainhardt said. "You could tell that after playing them last season.
"I couldn't be any happier for them and how they've been rewarded for their efforts," Mainhardt said. "They can make an immediate impact in the NHL."
Points and pain
Skille scored three goals and added four assists in four games against the Phantoms last season.
Johnson left his mark with his physical play along with two assists in three games.
Former Phantom Rob Rassey, who will play for Division I Holy Cross this fall, described Johnson this way: "When he hits, it hurts."
The NHL draft saw a record 16 U.S.-born players selected in the first two rounds, including four from the NAHL.
In the second round, left wing Ryan Stoa went 34th overall to the Colorado Avalanche and goalie Jeff Frazee was tabbed by the New Jersey Devils as the number 38 pick. They also played for the U.S. Under-18 squad.
"The NAHL is a good indication of how hockey is growing in the U.S. and providing players with opportunities and a good caliber of competition while giving fans good entertainment," said E.J. McGuire, chief scout of the NHL's Central Scouting Service and a former NHL assistant coach. "The game in the U.S. is growing and the NAHL is an integral part of that growth."
This fall, the Phantoms enter their third year in the NAHL. The league, set to begin its 30th campaign, will expand to four divisions in 2005.
All 20 teams will be featured at the annual NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn., from Oct. 19-22.
The four-day event is expected to draw the eyes of NHL and NCAA scouts from across North America as they will evaluate nearly 500 of the top junior players in the country.
Last season's Phantoms sent four players to NCAA Division I hockey programs.
"Just two years ago, we took a group of kids that most teams didn't want, and we finished above .500 and three of those players are playing Division I hockey," Mainhardt said.
"This year, we'll have our earliest college commitment ever and we have one former player who could likely be drafted in the NHL next year."
McGuire sees teams like the Phantoms as one of the NAHL's unique strengths.
"[It's about] bringing the game to previously non-traditional non-hockey areas and giving players from non-traditional hockey areas a chance," McGuire said.
"It all is part of helping the game grow in the U.S. and it is beginning to pay dividends."