Tim Mullhaupt, wbsknights.com
Exuberance would befit the expression of Kerry Huffman as he stepped back from the draft board following his team’s 13th and final selection of the NAHL Draft.
“This is a good draft boys,” he said with a smile to fellow coaches Tom Kowal and Andrew Whiteside.
Up on an easel at the end of the room sat the summary of the staff’s work for the afternoon and the previous months. 11 new forwards and three defensemen will have the opportunity to make this year’s edition of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. With the benefit of a full offseason of scouting, the confidence in the group is high.
“This draft went even better than we expected. We took a lot of the guys that we wanted and we feel all of our picks can play in this league,” said Huffman.
The competition for roster spots certainly won’t be easy. What is now a list of many names will need to be whittled down before the start of the regular season. Taking stock of the Knights’ picks, plenty of talent will have an opportunity to make their case to be on that final list.
With the fifth pick in the first round the Knights began their afternoon with the selection of Matt Kidney, a forward from the North Jersey Avalanche U18 (T1EHL). The right-handed skater brings with him a lengthy resume, headlined by his 28 goals and 30 assists in 54 games played between the AYHL 18U and T1EHL U18 levels last season.
“It was great to see my name come off the board. I know they have great coaches and a good program. I can’t wait to get started,” said Kidney. “I’ve been playing hockey with Tim Gelatt my whole life, so it’ll be great to skate with him again.”
Kidney’s familiarity with the Knights’ defenseman extends to his brother Mike, formerly a forward for the New Jersey Titans. All three call Middletown, New Jersey their hometown, and all three are now reunited on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton roster.
The Knights’ value on chemistry and prior shared playing time would prove evident early on in their second and third selections. With two picks in the second round, the Knights selected centerman Nick Fea and defenseman Paul Cimilluca, both from the same North Jersey Av's pipeline as Kidney.
Fea, a left-handed shot and 97 birth year, was a line mate to Kidney last season and likewise put up impressive numbers. He scored 19-33-52 in 52 games played between AYHL 18U and T1EHL U18. Cimilluca, also born in 1997, served as a steady two-way, right-handed defenseman with totals of 5-16-21 in 54 games played.
“The Avs were the top team in the U18 Atlantic District this year,” said assistant coach Andrew Whiteside. “I went to a couple games, the three guys we ended up taking distinguished themselves right away. When you’re able to land the best players from the best team, it puts you in a good place.”
The Avalanche streak of selections would end in the fourth round as the Knights picked up an offensive-minded defenseman in Markuss Komuls from the EHL’s Vermont Lumberjacks. The Latvian native not only played represented his country as an assistant captain at the IIHF World U18 Junior Classic, but tallied points in bunches, scoring seven goals and 30 assists in 39 games.
Ben Allen, was next to hear his name called to Wilkes-Barre. A forward from the Dallas Stars U18 team in the T1EHL (32 GP, 12-11-32), Allen spent two games in the NAHL with the Aston Rebels in 2015-2016, coincidentally scoring his lone NAHL goal against the Knights.
A familiar face followed with the Knights electing to keep Elijah Latimer at home. From Clifford Township, PA, the left-handed shot earned time at both the 18U and the NAHL levels last season. The ‘97 birth year was the final defenseman taken by the Knights on draft day.
In the 7th, 8th and 9th rounds the Knights looked again to their forecheck, picking up forwards Alex Adonoff, Lucas Sowder, and William Steele. Andonoff, a Richmond, Michigan native, played for Little Caesars U18 in the HPHL, registering a solid 8-8-16 line in 23 games played. Sowder, among other strong performances, distinguished himself playing well at the USA-S17 tournament, scoring six assists in five games played for Team Gold. Steele played for Selects Hockey Academy 18U racking up six goals and 12 assists in 21 games.
With two picks in the 10th round, the Knights used their surplus to send the 221st pick to the New Jersey Titans for forward Mike Gelatt. The aforementioned brother of Knights defenseman Tim Gelatt, Mike brings with him more than just NAHL experience.
“We really like Mike Gelatt. He’s a guy who scored 20 points at the NAHL level last season,” said coach Tom Kowal “He’s a big skater with competitiveness and grit. That’s what we’re looking for.”
At 6-1, 197, the bigger, yet younger of the two rostered brothers scored three goals and four assists in 13 games against the Knights last year. The staff believe they’ve not only acquired a feel-good story and a good system fit, but a leader as well.
Four forwards rounded out the Wilkes-Barre draft class: Griffin Uftring (Selects Hockey Academy 18U, USPHL 18U), Carson Beckett (Team Comcast 8U, AYHL 18U), Jared Lombardi (Philadelphia Jr. Flyers, T1EHL U18) and Jordan Seyfert (T1EHL U16).
Uftring’s work ethic stood out in pre-draft camp, and his familiarity with William Steele through their shared experience with Selects Hockey Academy could prove to be a bonus. Carson Beckett is a bigger right-handed shot at 6-0 foot with some relative youth as a ‘98 birth year. Jared Lombardi played his fair share of games against other members of the Knight’s draft class in the T1EHL, including each of the top three picks and Ben Allen. Having been born in 1999, Jordan Seyfert, the youngest Knights’ pick, showed enough for the North Jersey Avalanche U16 team (32 GP, 18-24-42, T1EHL) to not only be taken as a third round pick in the USHL draft, but also to make a college commitment to Division I Merrimack for the 2018-2019 season.
“I just want to acknowledge all the hard work Kerry Huffman and Andrew Whiteside put into making our draft,” said Tom Kowal. “We feel that we have players within this group that will make this team a competitor.”
All 13 draft picks will be invited to the Revolution Ice Centre in Pittston, PA for prospect camp from June 17th-19th.
“To make this team we’re looking for a team-first attitude and good character on and off the ice,” said Huffman. “We’re really pleased with the depth we bring to camp this year. We just can’t wait to get started.”