Among the four freshman joining the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team for the 2020-21 season are two draft prospects. In the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s final list for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Landon Slaggert is ranked #88 among North American Skaters, while Ryder Rolston, son of former NHL-er Brian Rolston, is ranked #102.
The Bureau’s “Players to Watch” from Nov. 11 listed Rolston as a “B” player (expected to be drafted in the second or third round), with Slaggert graded as a “C” player (expected to be anywhere between a fourth and sixth rounder). Rolston is a 6-foot-1 and 175 pound right wing who has spent that past couple of years with the US Under-17 and Under-18 teams. Slaggert, 6-foot and 182 pounds, is also a forward and spent the past two years with Rolston in the US development program. He’ll be returning to his hometown of South Bend, IN.
Also joining the program as freshmen are undrafted 19-year-olds Zach Pulcinski (D, 6-foot-1, 199 pounds) and Grant Silianof (RW, 5-foot-11, 165 pounds). Both spent the past two years in the USHL, Plucinski with Omaha and Silianof in Cedar Rapids.
The Hockey Writers’ Rankings and Mock Drafts
At first glance, being ranked #88 or #102 sounds great, or at least pretty good, right? But those are rankings among North American Skaters. The Bureau keeps separate lists for International Skaters, North American Goalies, and International Goalies. It’s up to the individual NHL teams’ scouting and evaluation teams to meld those four separate lists into a single “most wanted” list.
Thankfully, my colleagues at The Hockey Writers have been finessing their own looks at the upcoming draft and have put together comprehensive lists for our enjoyment.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide – Updated
Josh Bell’s final 2020 rankings of the top 155 players has Rolston at #131 in Round 5; Slaggert didn’t make the cut. Larry Fisher’s final Top 500 has Rolston at #149 (although he was the preseason #48 prospect). Larry has Slaggert just outside the top 100 (#106). Andrew Forbes updated his Top 217 prospects in March. Slaggert broke into Andrew’s top 100 (#94). Rolston was even higher, ranked #81.
Fighting Irish NHL Prospects
The incoming draft prospects will be joining a team that boasts seven other NHL prospects. Fighting Irish players who have already been drafted include:
- Nate Clurman – 2016 – 6th Rd/#161 – COL
- Nick Leivermann – 2017 – 7th Rd/#187 – COL
- Matt Hellickson – 2017 – 7th Rd/#214 – NJ
- Jake Pivonka – 2018 – 4th Rd/#103 – NYI
- Spencer Stastney – 2018 – 5th Rd/#131 – NAS
- Cam Morrison – 2016 – 2nd Rd/#40 – COL
- Trevor Janicke – 2019 – 5th Rd/#132 – ANA
The 2020-21 Notre Dame team will be missing a few familiar faces. Moving on (following graduation) are forwards Cal Burke, who signed with the Colorado Eagles in the AHL and Mike O’Leary, who joined the Hartford Wolf Pack following the 2019-20 NCAA season and played in one game for the team. Cale Morris is an undrafted free agent, but as a former Hobey Baker Award finalist, the goalie is expected to sign a professional contract.
What the Draft Rankings Mean
Let’s take a look at what’s happened to skaters in Slaggert and Rolston’s ranking positions over the past 10 years. (Keep in mind that most skaters drafted in the past couple of outside the first round usually remain in junior hockey to develop.)
Players Ranked #88 (North American Skaters)
|2018||Justin Almeida||5th Rd/#129||PIT||ECHL|
|2017||Robbie Stucker||7th Rd/#210||CBJ||USHL|
|2016||Ty Ronning||7th Rd/#201||NYR||ECHL|
|2015||Joseph Cecconi||5th Rd/#133||DAL||AHL|
|2014||Matt Mistele||6th Rd/#180||LA||NCAA|
|2013||Connor Clifton||5th Rd/#133||PHX||AHL|
|2012||Frank Vatrano||Free Agent (2015)||BOS||NHL (FLA)|
|2011||Keegan Lowe||3rd Rd/#73||CAR||AHL|
|2010||Taylor Aronson||3rd Rd/#78||NAS||DEL (Germany)|
Players Ranked #102 (North American Skaters)
|2018||Scott Perunovich||2nd Rd/#45||STL||NCAA|
|2017||D'artagnan Joly||6th Rd/#171||CGY||QMJHL|
|2016||Ondrej Vala||Free Agent 2016||DAL||AHL|
|2015||Brandon Crawley||4th Rd/#123 (2017)||NYR||ECHL|
|2014||Daniel Walcott||5th Rd/#140||NYR||AHL|
|2013||Carter Verhaeghe||3rd Rd/#82||TOR||NHL (TB)|
|2011||Harrison Ruopp||3rd Rd/#84||PHX||EIHL (UK)|
From # 88 and #102 to the NHL
Three of the 10 players most recently ranked #88 (North American Skaters) in their draft years made it to The Show and played in the NHL. Keegan Lowe played a pair of games with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2014-15 and two more with the Edmonton Oilers in 2017-18.
Frank Vatrano played 108 games with the Boston Bruins from 2015-18. He is still active with the Florida Panthers, playing 97 games since 2017. He’s penciled in as the first-line left wing for the Panthers in their current training camp roster.
Defenseman Connor Clifton has 50 games with the Bruins since 2018 and is on their training camp roster.
It’s tougher to reach the NHL from the 102nd ranking. In fact, over that past 10 years, only one player has NHL experience (so far). Carter Verhaeghe played 52 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019-20 regular season. His nine goals and four assists were good enough for him to be included in the Lightning’s training camp roster for this postseason.
Impact on the Fighting Irish
Adding a couple of likely draftees to the roster may not be enough to compensate for the players who have graduated, but talent and time will tell us more. Of course, we still don’t know if there will actually be an NCAA hockey season any time soon. One plan is to prepare for a shortened season.
Regardless of when Notre Dame resumes hockey, fans can expect to see Rolston and Slaggert to contribute right away. And hard-core Fighting Irish eyes will be watching the NHL Entry Draft in October very closely, waiting for a couple of names to be called.
(Some information in this article comes from the NHL Central Scouting Bureau, HockeyDB.com, EliteProspects.com, and The South Bend Tribune.)