Five NAHL players selected in 2016 NHL Draft
June 25, 2016
It was another successful year for the North American Hockey League (NAHL) at the annual NHL Draft. The 2016 NAHL Draft was held on June 24-25 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York, and hosted NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
In total, five players who played in the NAHL this past 2015-16 season were drafted by NHL teams. The five current and active players equaled the NAHL’s total from the 2015 NHL Draft.
The only other junior leagues in North America who had more active players drafted in this year’s NHL Draft were the OHL, USHL, WHL and QMJHL.
The five current players selected were Janesville Jets goalie Jack LaFontaine (Carolina Hurricanes, Round 3, #75 overall), Fairbanks Ice Dogs forward Todd Burgess (Ottawa Senators, Round 4, #103 overall), Lone Star Brahmas defenseman Cameron Clarke (Boston Bruins, Round 5, #136 overall), Aberdeen Wings goalie Peter Thome (Columbus Bluejackets, Round 6, #155 overall) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights defenseman Dmitri Zaitzev (Washington Capitals, Round 7, #207 overall).
Coincidentally, four of the five current players that were drafted, also played in the 2016 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament this past February in Plymouth, Michigan.
“I think you are continuing to see the overall evolution of the North American Hockey League. Players are getting more exposure and as a result there have been many goalies and skaters that are worthy of consideration by NHL teams during the draft,” said NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. “We continue to see more and more NHL scouts at our events and because our players are competing at such a high level, we have been able to enjoy continued success at the NHL Draft. We congratulate all those players selected and hope to see them in an NHL uniform one day soon.”
The first player to go off the board was Janesville Jets goalie Jack LaFontaine, who went to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 3rd round. LaFontaine, who committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at the University of Michigan during the season, was the Midwest Division Goalie of the Year. He also played for the NAHL Selects team at the 2016 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament. “It is an incredible feeling,” said LaFontaine, who was at the Draft. “I owe a lot of credit to the coaching staff in Janesville, the Jets organization and the North American Hockey League for getting me to this point. It is a dream come true and I couldn’t be more excited,” stated LaFontaine.
The next player selected was Fairbanks Ice Dogs forward Todd Burgess, who was the NAHL’s Most Valuable Player this past season. Burgess, who committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at RPI earlier this season, was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the 4th round of the Draft. Burgess led his Ice Dogs to the 2016 Roberson Cup National Championship and his 95 points during the regular season was the most in the league since the 2006-07 campaign. Burgess also played for the NAHL Selects team at the 2016 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament. “I was at home with family and just elated to be drafted by Ottawa… it was a dream come true,” said Burgess. “I owe so much to the coaches and staff in Fairbanks who have helped me develop to this point over the course of the past three seasons, and to cap it off with the Robertson Cup and being honored as the MVP of a great league like the NAHL, was truly a dream season.”
The third player selected was Lone Star Brahmas defenseman Cam Clarke, who was selected in the 5th round by the Boston Bruins. Clarke, who is an NAPHL graduate having played for the West Michigan Hounds during the 2013-14 season, was named the NAHL’s Defenseman of the Year in 2015-16. Clarke, who committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at Ferris State earlier this season, also played on the NAHL Selects team at the 2016 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament. "It’s a feeling like no other," Clarke said from his home in Michigan, where he watched from home alongside his parents and girlfriend. "I was just sitting in there with my family and when it happened, it was just pure excitement, and to go to Boston, they’re an Original Six organization. It’s just — it’s something you dream of growing up and it’s a great feeling."
The next player selected was Aberdeen Wings goalie Peter Thome, who was taken in the 6th round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Thome, who committed to play NCAA Division I hockey earlier in the season at the University of North Dakota, also played in the 2016 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament for the East Division team. For his efforts, Thome was named to the NAHL’s Central Division All-Rookie Team.
The final player selected was Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights defenseman Dmitriy Zaitsev, who was taken in the 7th round by the Washington Capitals. From manning the Wilkes-Barre blue line, to representing Russia at the IIHF World U18 Championships, Zaitsev’s talent and profile have grown. In 53 games for the Knights, the Moscow, Russia, native registered seven goals and 15 assists. “Dmitriy is one of those guys you love to have on your blue-line,” said Knights head coach Tom Kowal. “He brought a lot of energy, and was routinely one of our better performers. He’s a guy that was an anchor for us. I thought he was an asset from the moment he stepped on the ice,” said Kowal. “It’s going to be really hard to replace him. We’re all extremely proud of how far he’s come and what he’s accomplished."