The defending ECAC champion Harvard men’s hockey team cemented its status as a breeding ground for professionals when five Crimson players were selected in this past weekend’s NHL draft in Toronto. The recent draftees boost the total number of NHL picks on the Crimson roster to 13.
The five draft picks were more than any other ECAC school and third-most in the nation behind Boston University and defending NCAA champion Minnesota.
“It’s a strong statement by the NHL, because they won’t draft players if they don’t believe that they attend a school that can develop them into the NHL,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni.
Sophomore goalie Dov Grumet-Morris was the Crimson’s highest selection, going in the fifth round to the Philadelphia Flyers as the 161st pick overall. Incoming freshman defenseman Tom Walsh was selected by the San Jose Sharks two picks later.
Walsh is a left-shooting defenseman from Deerfield Academy in Masschusetts. Mazzoleni described him as a good skater with strong puckhandling skills.
Another incoming freshman, defenseman Peter Hafner, was drafted by Florida in the eighth round with the 232nd overall pick. Hafner is a 6’5 defenseman from the Taft School in Connecticut.
“[Hafner] has incredible reach and he’s pretty graceful for a big guy,” Mazzoleni said. “Both [freshmen] should challenge for ice time right away.”
Two other returning Harvard players were drafted in the final rounds. Sophomore defenseman Ryan Lannon was taken in the eighth round by the Pittsburgh Penguins, seven picks after Hafner, and sophomore winger Rob Flynn was selected by the New York Rangers with the first pick of the ninth round.
Through the draft, NHL teams can gain the signing rights to players even before they decide to leave college.
“[The draft] is a validation from other people of the work that you’ve done and ability you have,” Grumet-Morris said.
Flynn had a somewhat different experience, having been selected in the draft’s final round.
“Being drafted, for me, was kind of like a bonus,” Flynn said. “I went up [to Toronto] with all my friends, with Dov, having fun. Getting drafted was an extra. I didn’t really have any expectations.”
With so many NHL prospects on its roster, the pressure will be on the Crimson to repeat as ECAC champions, but the players downplay that effect.
“I would say there is a higher expectation from the team itself, rather than from any external sources putting pressure on us,” Grumet-Morris said. “People will look on paper, see 13 draft picks, and assume we should be the best. This is not how hockey works—not how life works. You have to play the game.”
Mazzoleni was quick to point out that NHL respect does not imply immediate college success.
“I don’t want to take away from the significance of the draft, but drafts can sometimes be deceiving,” Mazzoleni said. “When a player is drafted, he is picked because of his potential four years down the road, until he leaves college or graduates from college. The NHL bases a lot of things on size, and we have a pretty good-sized team.”
Though the NHL expects players to develop at the college level, Mazzoleni’s job is to ensure that the Crimson wins now.
“Sure, we have a focus and responsibility to make sure our young men’s games develop so that they may be able to go to the NHL, but our main goal is to improve our program and make sure that it is doing well,” he said.
With the focus on the present, neither Flynn nor Grumet-Morris sees the draft causing any divisions in the locker room, even though draftees outnumber non-draftees on the Crimson roster.
“The draft is in the summer and has no bearing on the season,” Grumet-Morris said. “On the ice, everyone is the same. Whether or not you have a few extra initials or asterisks in the program has no bearing on how you play.”
“We barely talk about [the draft],” Flynn said. “I suppose it is a reflection of the quality of our players, but as far as I’m concerned we could have 22 players drafted.”
With their commitment to earning a Harvard degree, both Flynn and Grumet-Morris have their skates firmly planted in Cambridge for the next three years.
“It’s cool to be a part of something that is so big, that for so many years has been a part of your life,” Grumet-Morris said. “Right now, though, it’s in the distance. My concentration is on Harvard hockey.”
—Staff writer David A. Weinfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org