The Buffalo Sabres had just taken Louis-Philippe Martin of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar with the 266th pick of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Martin was one of the Drakkar’s top scorers as an 18-year-old, putting up 76 points in 65 games in the QMJHL, giving Buffalo a solid ninth round selection.
San Jose was on the clock.
It was the last round of the 2003 Draft, but some highly regarded prospects were still on the board. Slovakian Under-18 starting goalie Jaroslav Halak had yet to be taken, likewise highly regarded Finnish defenseman Ville Mantymaa. Tall project defenseman Jean-Michel Bolduc could still have been had as well, and the Sharks had drafted his Quebec Remparts teammate, Josh Hennessy, on Saturday in the second round.
And then the Sharks selection showed up on the computer screen.
The Sharks still had a pick nine slots later at 276th. Halak was nabbed by the Montreal Canadiens with the 271st pick, but the Sharks still had a chance at stealing Mantymaa in the ninth round after the Chicago Blackhawks took Chicago Steel defenseman Michael Grenzy with the 275th pick.
The Sharks selection appeared on the computer screen.
The Sharks left the ninth round with one prospect from a Boston high school team and another from a Connecticut prep school while Anaheim had nabbed a Finn in Mantymaa who’d played for their Under-18 national team and looked primed to split the next season in the Finnish Elite League and Finnish juniors.
Sharks Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Burke said in a press release after the 2003 Draft that “O’Hanley was another kid we liked, but we knew that he would slide a little, so we felt we could grab him in the later rounds.”
The Sharks had signed Hobey Baker finalist Tom Preissing as a free agent out of Colorado College in April, and Minnesota State University-Mankato sophomore Grant Stevenson had been signed after his sophomore year that same month. Why couldn’t San Jose have just waited and pursued these two prospects when they became free agents and take Halak or Mantymaa instead?
Class of 2003
In the 2003-04 season, as the Sharks 2003 draft class performed very well as a group.
Despite first round pick Milan Michalek missing most of the season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, forward Steve Bernier put up 82 points in 66 games for Moncton of the QMJHL and second round pick Josh Hennessy had 82 points in only 59 games with Quebec of the QMJHL.
Fellow second rounder Matt Carle proved to be one of the top freshman defenseman in college hockey with 26 points in 30 games for Denver University.
Fifth round draft pick Patrick Ehelechner made the move from Germany to play for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Junior Hockey League and was named to the OHL Second All-Star Team with a .915 save percentage and a 2.87 goals against average. Ehelechner was also named the Goalie of the Tournament at the International Ice Hockey Federation DI Group A World Junior Champions after leading Germany to a gold medal. The victory also earned Germany promotion to the elite level in 2005.
Seventh round pick Joe Pavelski was named the USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year after leading the Waterloo Blackhawks to the Clark Cup and Team USA’s Viking Cup team to a silver medal.
The Sharks had done quite well for themselves, save for the questionable ninth round picks. Then the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association released their all-star teams for the season.
Team East included such prospects as Cory Schneider and Chris Bourque. Schneider had backstopped Team USA to a silver medal at the IIHF U-18 tournament in Minsk, Belarus and was projected to be drafted before the third round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Bourque, the son of NHL Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque, had been named the NEPSIHA MVP with the possibility of going on the first day of the draft.
Impressive players to say the least.
Team West: Torrey Mitchell, Mike Atkinson, Mark Mulhern, Jon Quick and Brian O’Hanley and Carter Lee.
Had someone misjudged the Sharks ninth round picks? Maybe Burke was on to something.
Receiving no national attention in the hockey media prior to the draft, O’Hanley had actually put up some impressive numbers in high school for Boston College High School. Named to the Boston Globe “Super Team” and the Boston Herald “Dream Team,” the Quincy, Mass., native lead the Catholic Conference in scoring in 2002-03 as a defenseman with 23 goals and 22 assists. With such impressive numbers, O’Hanley was named a Catholic Conference All-Star for the second straight season.
Unknown nationally, O’Hanley had caught the attention of some observers for some time, including Boston College.
“We watched him throughout his career at B.C. High,” said Boston College head coach Jerry York in a phone interview. “We always thought he was a good prospect.”
But it wasn’t until O’Hanley’s senior year at Boston College High that York seriously considered the puckmoving defenseman.
“Probably the state tournament his senior year of high school is when we thought he’d fit into our team and play for us,” York said.
O’Hanley committed to Boston College shortly after the high school tournament, putting the blueliner one step closer toward fulfilling a lifelong dream of playing for the Eagles.
Before moving on to college hockey, O’Hanley decided to play one year of prep hockey with Salisbury School in Connecticut. Salisbury head coach Dan Donato was happy to have him.
“I recognized right away he could do some special things,” Donato told Hockey’s Future in a phone interview. “Any time you can get a kid like Brian to come to prep school, that’s a real positive.”
O’Hanley went on to score 11 goals and 28 assists for the Crimson Knights, earning the school’s Roswell H. Rudd Hockey Award. Along with being named to NEPSIHA’s West All-Star Team, O’Hanley was also named to the All-Founder’s League team and Salisbury’s Richard T. Flood Athletic Medal for his excellence in hockey, baseball and soccer.
Despite being a multi-sport athlete, O’Hanley’s future is in hockey. O’Hanley’s quick release, hard shot, accurate outlet passing, on-ice vision and his tremendous ability taking the puck off the boards instilled Donato with confidence.
“When Brian O’Hanley had the puck, I was at ease,” Donato said. “I knew something good was going to happen with the puck.”
York sees many of the same strengths in the 19-year-old defenseman.
“I think he’s a pretty good combination player,” York said. “He has offensive tools, he shoots the puck well and headmans the puck out of the zone.”
Only just beginning his collegiate career, York sees a lot of potential in his freshman defenseman.
“He has the potential to become a solid power play defenseman,” York said.
Donato believes O’Hanley could contribute to Boston College sooner rather than later.
“Nothing will surprise me with him,” Donato said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Brian finds himself on the first or second power play.”
While San Jose has a number of young prospect defensemen who can move the puck well, O’Hanley may end up one of the Sharks top puckmoving prospects blueliners behind only Christian Ehrhoff. As a ninth round pick, O’Hanley is a low risk prospect with a high potential of reward.
Both Donato and York believe San Jose has a steal on its hands.
“I thought he could go higher, I was surprised he lasted until the last round,” York said.
“I thought he was a middle pick,” York said. “Four to seven, that’s where we projected him.”
Donato noted that, “A lot of teams saw him play for us and left saying, ‘Geez, that’s a really good pick.’”
San Jose drafted a similarly talented defenseman in the eighth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft out of prep school who went on to star for Northeastern University and become a Hobey Baker finalist. That player is Jim Fahey, the Sharks 2002-03 Rookie of the Year.
The 5’11 190-pound O’Hanley may just be San Jose’s next late round gem on defense.
Prior to the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the Sharks had a talented crop of forwards headlined by Milan Michalek, Steve Bernier, Josh Hennessy and Marcel Goc. Despite possessing these forwards, questions remained whether San Jose had an elite sniper in its stable prior to the draft. After selecting sniping Czech winger Lukas Kaspar with the 22nd pick in the 2004 Draft, the Sharks appeared to have addressed this potential deficiency.
But the Sharks may have addressed it in the ninth round of the previous draft when they selected 6’2 200-pound Carter Lee.
After playing for Christian Brothers Academy in New Jersey, carrying the team as a sophomore, Lee made the move to Canterbury School in New Milford, Conn., for a new challenge.
Lee picked up with the superior competition where he left off with the lesser, and led all of New England prep school hockey with 39 goals and 21 assists in 35 games.
No surprise to Canterbury head coach Peter LaVigne.
“He’s got a professional shot,” said LaVigne via phone. “He’s got a shot that’s tremendous, whether it’s a slap short or a snap shot. It scored a lot of goals for Canterbury.”
Lee’s production with Canterbury his junior year caught not only the eyes of the San Jose Sharks, but also Northeastern University. Huskies head coach Bruce Crowder had the same assessment as LaVigne.
Crowder’s first comment on Lee to Hockey’s Future — “He has a pro shot.”
Crowder took notice of Lee toward the end of his junior season, and by September, Lee had committed to Northeastern.
Crowder not only liked Lee’s shot, but also, “his size and his ability to compete.”
The three-time Hockey East Coach of the Year did admit that his rookie recruit “needs to improve his hitting, read plays better and improve his first step and leg strength.”
But Crowder knows size can’t be taught and hopes Lee will become a go-to-guy.
Lee was Canterbury’s go-to-guy, but after the sniper was drafted, he became the focus of the opposition.
“Once he was drafted, every school understood he was drafted,” LaVigne said. “He was pressured with on-ice physical pressure game-in and game-out.”
Now the focus of the opposition, Lee’s production dropped to 20 goals and 21 assists in 31 games his senior year. Compounding this problem was, as LaVigne notes, the fact that Canterbury had less of a supporting cast for Lee in 2003-04, having lost a few good forwards to graduation.
Lee didn’t sulk however, and continued to work on improving weaknesses in his game.
“His biggest critic is probably himself,” LaVigne said, but added, “Not to the point where he’s always down on himself, but he’s very driven and ambitious that way.”
Lee may have seemed like an ambitious project pick at the time, but LaVigne isn’t surprised his former prep phenom was drafted.
“A couple of things will catch a scout’s eye,” LaVigne said. “One is a big strong kid who can skate.”
“By the end of his junior year, to see a kid who was that big who could shoot the puck like he could, I think what scouts saw was not untapped potential, but a kid who could play for a long time.”
Lee’s only making the first few steps, but it’s possible that “a long time” will be in a San Jose Sharks uniform.
The Early Returns
O’Hanley has hit the ground running with Boston College, adding a power play assist in the Eagles’ first game of the season, a 7-2 victory over New Brunswick University. Boston College beat the defending NCAA National Champion Denver Pioneers Oct. 15 6-2, and once again O’Hanley tallied a power play assist. The freshman defenseman did not tally in Boston College’s next two games, but he did play a regular shift and is off to a strong start.
Lee is off to a slower start. Scratched in Northeastern’s first game against the University of Michigan, a surprising 4-2 upset victory Oct. 8, Lee played the next night in the Huskies’ 6-2 loss to the Miami Redhawks. Northeastern’s next game came a week late on Oct. 6, a 4-2 loss to Denver University for which Lee was again scratched. Lee found himself playing again Oct. 19 against Rensselaer, but the right winger found himself on the fourth line in the team’s 7-4 loss. However, Lee moved up in Northeastern’s next game, playing on the third line in the Huskies’ 4-3 overtime victory over Colgate.
While O’Hanley may be off to the superior start, both players have a lot of hockey to play in 2004-05 and beyond. However, at this early juncture, San Jose appears to have two ninth-round steals on their hands.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.