This year, there are a number of 1992 birth dates still eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. That means we should see a fair number of players already in NCAA institutions have their names called on draft day. Because there are often less draft-eligibles playing college hockey right now, they don’t always get the same attention as their fellow prospects in the Junior A and Major Junior ranks. I think it’s time we change that a bit.
You’ve heard about guys like Jamie Oleksiak, Adam Clendening and Matthew Nieto, all potential first or second rounders out of the NCAA, but what about some of the guys that are even further below the radar?
One of those guys is Chase Balisy, a native of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., currently playing for one of college hockey’s biggest surprises this year, Western Michigan University, led by first-year head coach Jeff Blashill. Balisy is in his second year of draft eligibility after getting passed over last season.
He’s not the most fleet of foot and doesn’t possess great strength, but he thinks the game as well as anyone. He has an ability to make plays and make his teammates look good. He did it plenty in two years at the National Team Development Program, playing with a lot of talented players that were selected within the first two rounds last season. Perhaps he was overshadowed a bit.
He’s no lock to be selected this year, but is a player that I think any team would be wise to spend a pick on in the later rounds. He’ll only continue to develop and get stronger under the leadership of Blashill and his offensive output this year is going to be hard to overlook. Balisy’s 27 points (11g-16a) in 30 games lead WMU, which cracked the Top 15 on the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men’s College Hockey Poll for the first time in 10 years.
I chatted with Balisy about his standout season, getting passed over last year and his hopes for the remainder of the 2010-11 campaign.
After the jump, my Q&A with Chase Balisy and a look at other “under-the-radar” draft eligibles from the NCAA.
USofH: You’re leading the team in scoring and you’re top-10 in scoring among the nation’s freshman. Did you see any of this coming at all?
Balisy: Not really. I just wanted to come in here and work hard and see where it got me. I guess all these accolades are pretty cool right now, but I didn’t expect any of the success at Western at all.
USofH: Last year, you got passed over in the draft and you’re still eligible this year. What do you think of your chances for this draft?
Balisy: When I didn’t get drafted last year, I obviously used it for motivation this year. If it happens [this year], it happens. It’s not my major goal right now. I just want to keep playing here and just keep winning. I’ve had a lot of fun here. When the team’s doing well, individual guys are going to get recognized. If the team’s doing well, I’m fine with that.
USofH: For anybody that’s never seen you play, could you give yourself a scouting report as far as what you bring to the table?
Balisy: I’d say I’m a smart player. I mostly play with my brain and try to make plays. I’m not the fastest guy, but I protect the puck well and just try and move the puck. When I play with some smart players, I think I can put some points up.
USofH: Your smarts are your biggest attribute, but what are you working on most this season to round out your game?
Balisy: Definitely my overall strength and speed. Those are two of the most important that I’m trying to improve on this year. I think I’ve done that so far, but I still need to improve a lot though.
USofH: You had a good season at the NTDP last year (won U18 gold), so why did it take so long to find a college and what about Western made you want to sign?
Balisy: I think just the opportunity here I’ve gotten to play regularly, to play on both the power play and penalty kill and play a lot of ice time and just have a big role on this team has influenced me a lot to play well, I guess you could say. Not that I wasn’t getting opportunities last year, but I just feel coming in here and just having more confidence has led to this success so far.
USofH: Clearly you had a great month in January (12 points, named CCHA’s Rookie of the Month), was it just getting hot at the right time or is it part of just building that confidence?
Balisy: I think a lot of it is just confidence. I feel like the team is playing really well the last two months and when the team’s playing well, guys are going to start having success on the score sheet.
USofH: It’s been a bit of a rebirth for WMU hockey with Jeff Blashill there. Usually new coaches don’t get a ton of their own recruits in there, but you are one of his. What has it been like to play for him?
Balisy: He’s a great coach. He pushes us hard and he’s fair. That’s one thing I’ve learned about him. If you’re not playing well he’s going to tell you. If you’re playing well you’re going to be on the ice. I think fairness is the biggest thing with him. It’s been nice knowing that I’m one of his guys that he brought in here. I don’t think I look at it any differently with who the coach is. He’s given me an opportunity to play regularly and that’s all there was to it.
USofH: You had draft rights in the OHL. Was that an option for you, and if it was, why did you pick college?
Balisy: That was definitely an option, but Western offered me pretty late in the process and all I heard was Blashill was a great coach. I heard that from a lot of people and just talking to him, he knew a lot about hockey and told me I had an opportunity to play a lot as a freshman. That was kind of intriguing to me and that’s why I decided to come here.
USofH: Western doesn’t exactly have the same exposure as some of the bigger programs, but with the success of the season so far are you guys starting to notice you’re getting a little bit more attention?
Balisy: I think we’ve gotten some attention, especially with this unbeaten streak that we’re on here. Attention is nice, but it comes with the team success and if the team’s doing well, we’re going to have more attention. If we weren’t doing this well, none of this attention would be here, so we just want to keep winning.
Balisy still has a lot to prove to NHL scouts, but he thinks the game as well as any 18-year-old I’ve seen. He rarely hurts you with mistakes. That said, as Balisy mentions his strength and speed are going to be the biggest factors on whether or not he gets drafted. He’ll have to show that he’s getting bigger and faster throughout the rest of the season. Should he not get drafted, which is a distinct possibility, he’ll have a great shot at being a college free agent, which sometimes is almost better than being drafted.
One last Balisy fact, he played midget hockey with the Toronto Junior Canadians. In his final year there, he centered a line of Tyler Toffoli and John McFarland, both high second round draft picks in 2010.
Some of the other guys that haven’t received a lot of attention:
T.J. Tynan – University of Notre Dame – Tynan is another second-year eligible guy who lit up the USHL points-wise last year with Des Moines. His size scared every scout away, but a brilliant freshman campaign at Notre Dame has to bring some attention. Leading both the Irish and the nation’s freshmen with 39 points (18g-21a), he’s proving he can produce at a higher level. In fact, he’s already posted more goals this year than he did in a 60-game USHL campaign last year. Will his size (5’8″, 168) continue to scare away scouts? I don’t think it should, certainly not in the very late rounds. Not listed by Central Scouting, but totally worth a stab in the sixth or seventh… if he’s still there. Side Note: Tynan wasn’t even expected to play at ND this year. Kyle Palmieri’s signing a pro contract is the only reason the Illinois native was brought in. ND’s freshman class has been a revelation this year.
Nick Shore – University of Denver – Shore is part of a freshman class that has made a huge impact on the Pioneers. He’s been a top center, along with sophomore brother Drew (FLA 2nd rounder in 2009), for Denver. Despite missing eight games with an injury, Shore has posted 15 points (4g-11a). He’s a great distributor of the puck and is solid on draws. He doesn’t have great speed, though I wouldn’t classify him as slow by any means. His size is pretty close to where it needs to be, as well. Central Scouting has him ranked No. 38. I think he’s a safer bet for late second round, unless he’s a big part of a post-season run for the Pioneers. Side Note: Shore tied Clendening and Rocco Grimaldi for the team lead with 10 points at the 2010 IIHF World U18 Championship, where Team USA won gold.
Michael Mersch – University of Wisconsin – After accelerating in high school, while at the National Team Development Program, to be able to play for Wisconsin this year, Mersch hasn’t missed a single game for the Badgers. He has 15 points (8g-7a) and has great size. He’s continued to work on rounding out his physical game, but his quick release turns heads the most. Mersch has sniper-like accuracy when he’s got time. Improved play in traffic could lead to more points. Central Scouting has him at 63, which I think is a pretty good slot. He’d be a nice value pick in the late-third or early-fourth round.
Frankie Simonelli – University of Wisconsin – Simonelli was a part of that vaunted 1992 defensive corps at the NTDP last season. He was a bottom pair defenseman on that club, mainly because he was one of two guys under 6-1 on the blue line. While he lacks good size, he possess decent strength and an ability to move the puck fairly well. He’s posted 10 points (2g-8a) for the Badgers this year. Central Scouting has him ranked at 92, which is fair. You may see him slip a little lower than that, but he’s a guy who has room to develop yet and Wisco has been churning out solid defensive prospects over the last few years. He’s probably in the right spot to earn a few extra looks from scouts.
Being a true freshman in college hockey is a tall order in one’s draft season. It is often tough to put up points, especially when there is added draft pressure, but these players are doing it. At just 18 or 19, these student-athletes are playing against opponents that are about 2-5 years older. To produce at a high rate in top collegiate conferences is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. This year, I don’t think it will be.
We’ll have our next prospect post coming up on Thursday, complete with news, commentary and links from around the country. So check back for that.
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