Despite getting relatively few chances to scout players in person, Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock said he was pleased with the way the North American Hockey League Entry Draft went Tuesday.
“I thought the draft went well for us yesterday,” Murdock said Wednesday from Wisconsin. “We have a reason for taking every single guy. I hope and anticipate in one way, shape or form that everybody will help and continue to help the team in the future.”
Since the NAHL season was suspended in mid-March due to the new coronavirus pandemic, Murdock said the only time he was able to get out and watch live hockey was when the Bears held a pre-draft camp in Eagle River from June 19 to 21 and two more pre-draft camps in Wisconsin in mid-July.
Murdock said, fortunately, the Bears had an off week in February, allowing Murdock to scout the Tier I Elite League playoffs, but other than that Murdock relied on a lot of video and scouting from the summer of 2019.
The head coach said the draft is hopefully another step in getting the league started soon. He said Chris Hedlund, general manager, and Nate Kiel, president of Kenai Peninsula Youth Foundation, have been in conference calls with league representatives about the upcoming season. Murdock said there will be more information in the coming weeks.
“They’re trying to figure a way to get the league up and running as soon as possible, while at the same time keeping everybody safe,” Murdock said.
At the pre-draft camps, Murdock said precautions were in place, such as making all players provide their own water and towels. Thus far, Murdock said he had heard of nobody getting sick at the camps. The coach also said three players at the camps ended up getting drafted by the team.
In addition to the lack of in-person scouting, Murdock said there were several other wrinkles in the draft.
Some American players are signed to play in Canada this season, but there is some question about whether they will be able to play there. The pandemic also has cast a question over college hockey, so teams might take a risk on somebody who was supposed to report to a Division I team this season.
The Bears selected 11 players because they currently have 12 veterans protected and also have six players tendered. In a normal year, the Bears would have drafted 12 players to get to 30 on their protected list, but that changed due to the NAHL Supplemental Draft in mid-May.
Two of the players selected by the Bears are already committed to Division I programs, but will play junior hockey this season.
Kenai River’s first selection, Morgan Winters of Osprey, Florida, is a 5-foot-9, 150-pound forward committed to the University of New Hampshire. Eric DeDobbelaer, a 5-10, 183-pound right wing taken in the fifth round, is committed to University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Murdock said both players will pursue opportunities in the United States Hockey League, the best junior league in the country, but the Brown Bears will be there if things don’t work out.
In the sixth round, the Bears took Joseph McCollum, a left defenseman out of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Joseph’s brother, Robert, played 25 games for the Bears last season before moving up to the USHL. Robert got a Division I commitment to Long Island University.
Murdock said Joseph also already has NAHL experience.
“He was a pretty good grab at that point,” Murdock said.
Kenai River took three players from Anchorage. The first was Ryan Miknich, a 5-9, 165-pound center. Ryan’s brother, Tyler, played 26 games for the Bears in the 2017-18 season. Murdock said Miknich looked good at the pre-draft camp last season. He also was coached by new assistant coach Matt Thompson as a youth hockey player.
The final two Anchorage players were Caleb Huffman, a 6-3, 180-pound left defenseman in the 10th round, and Andrew Ramsey, a 6-0, 192-pound defenseman in the 11th round. Murdock said both skate well for their size and can play a physical game.
He said both check a lot of boxes and he looks forward to working with them both on a regular basis.
“All the guys we drafted can play in the league, for sure,” Murdock said. “It’s just a matter of getting everyone in and seeing how the pieces come together once we get to main camp.”
Main camp will be Aug. 13 to 16 in Anoka, Minnesota.
Here is a list of the Kenai River draft picks, listed by round, player’s name, date of birth, position and hometown: 1, Morgan Winters; Dec. 8, 2001; center; Osprey, Florida; 3, Grant Malinowski; March 8, 2002; right defense; White Lake, Michigan; 3, Isaac Lindstrom; April 13, 2002; forward; Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin; 3, Adam Beauvais, September 12, 2001; right wing; Shelby Township, Michigan; 5, Eric DeDobbelaer; June 15, 2000; right wing, Brantford, Ontario; 6, Joseph McCollum; April 14, 2001; left defense; Thunder Bay, Ontario; 7, Parker Rey; Oct. 10, 2000; goalie; Grand Blanc, Michigan; 8, Ryan Miknich, January 25, 2002; center; Anchorage, AK; 9, Sean Davidson; August 3, 2001; right defense; St. Cloud, Minnesota; 10, Caleb Huffman; January 30, 2002; left defense; Anchorage, AK; 11, Andrew Ramsey, June 21, 2002; left defense; Anchorage, Alaska.