12 college commitments, six USHL Draft Picks, one East Division Championship; it’s a mantra that is repeated inside the Knights organization nowadays. The 2017-18 NAHL campaign ended a month ago. The group that left the Revolution Ice Centre in May set the bar higher than any previous group.
“Any time you have a team as talented as we did last season, you have to anticipate replacing a lot of players,” said Knights head coach Tom Kowal. “Our staff did a great job scouting, recruiting and drafting last season. The challenge is to do it again. I’m confident in our ability to reload our roster and build a team that will allow us to not only make another run at the Robertson Cup, but also move a lot of players on to higher levels.”
With eight picks in Tuesday’s NAHL Entry Draft, the Knights believe they’ve added eight players that will help raise the bar even higher in 2018-19.
Round 1, Pick 13: Zach Stejskal, Goalie:
Draft day 2018 began with the selection of Zach Stejskal, an 18-year old goalie from Minnesota. Fittingly, the Knights trip to Skejstal’s home state for the Robertson Cup Final Four came thanks in no small part to stellar goaltending.
“We had a chance to take an established junior hockey goaltender that has already committed to a very good Division I school,” said Knights assistant GM Justin Schreiber. “With both of our goalies being drafted to USHL teams we felt like that was an area we needed to address early in the draft.”
Standing at a towering 6-4, Stejskal boasts an impressive resume complete with 32 games played in the USHL plus the aforementioned NCAA DI commitment. Last year he announced his commitment to the eventual 2017-18 NCAA National Champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.
Round 2, Pick 37: Evan Orr, Defenseman:
Orr joins the Knights from a Little Caesars program that has produced an abundance of successful players for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The puck-moving blue-liner produced seven points in 11 games playing at the U16 level last season. For the past two years, Orr has also spent summers participating in Team USA development camps, most recently playing five games in the Selects 16 age group. Now 17, he’s already committed to a DI program in his home state, where he’ll one day join Michigan Tech.
“Evan has one of the best shots for a younger defenseman that our staff has ever seen,” said Knights assistant coach Andrew Whiteside. “His poise with the puck and ability to run a power play make him one of the top ’01 born defensemen out of Michigan. We are very happy to have Evan part of the Knights organization.”
Round 3, Pick 51: Davis Pennington, Defenseman:
With their first selection in the third round, the Knights went right back to the well for another left-handed defenseman from Michigan. Davis Pennington hails from the Detroit Honeybaked youth program after spending prior seasons with Belle Tire.
“Davis is a solid two-way puck moving defensemen who likes to join the rush offensively,” said Whiteside. “He’s been a big piece of the puzzle for every youth team he has skated for in Michigan. We are excited to add Davis to our already offensive blue line.”
Like Orr, Pennington has spent time developing at USA Hockey Camps in each of the past two summers. Playing for Honeybaked in the HPHL last season, Pennington picked up an impressive five goals and nine assists in 16 games played.
Round 3, Pick 61: Mathew Kahra, Forward:
With their second third round pick, the Knights added their first forward of the 2018 draft class, Mathew Kahra.
“Mathew is a pugnacious, yet skilled forward who is always around the puck,” said Whiteside. “His high compete level and playmaking ability makes him a threat in all three zones. He will provide us with the depth needed at the center position next season.”
The ’99 from Brighton, Michigan snipes well with his left-handed shot as he recorded 13 goals as a part of a 30-point season for his high school in 2017-18. Also playing in the Michigan Developmental Hockey League, Kahra averaged over a point per game, scoring 3-7-10 in nine contests for MDHL White last season.
Round 4, Pick 76: Beck Moore, Forward:
Advancing through the age brackets of the Colorado Thunderbirds hockey program over the last several years, Moore has made a name for himself with his well-rounded play.
After being a member of a Thunderbirds roster crowned T1EHL U16 champions in 2016-17, Moore was named assistant captain of his 18U team in 2017-18. He went on to record nine goals and 25 points in 34 games before being drafted by the Knights.
Round 4, Pick 78: Samuel Vyletelka, Goalie:
After seeing both goaltenders from their 2017-18 roster drafted into the USHL last month, the Knights made it a point to restock their crease with premium talent. After adding Stejskal in round one, the Knights picked up their second goalie and second Little Caesars player of the draft.
“Samuel is an extremely athletic goaltender with quick reflexes and a tremendous ability to track pucks,” said Whiteside. “His experience at the international level with Slovakia will do nothing but help him at the NAHL level.”
A native of Slovakia and a past participant on their U18 roster in the Hlinka Memorial Tournament, Vyletelka brings size and skill between the pipes. In 30 games at the AAA level for Little Caesars last season, he kept his GAA to a sterling 2.03, while also maintaining a save percentage north of 90% at the T1EHL level.
Round 4, Pick 85: Will Otwell, Forward:
Round 5, Pick 109: Ross Bartlett, Forward
With their final pick in the draft, the Knights added forward Ross Bartlett. A true veteran of junior hockey, Barlett comes to the Knights with plenty of experience. Over the past four years, the Florida native has played in 140 games across multiple junior leagues.
In 51 games in the WSHL this past season, Bartlett recorded 41 goals and 63 assists for the Ogden Mustangs.
Adding four forwards, two defensemen, and two goalies, the Knights have taken another significant step toward building their next contender.
“We came into the draft with a list of names we believed would help make our team better,” said Kowal. “We left the draft with those names on our roster heading into main camp. We’re excited to get to work.”