SIOUX CITY | There’s all sorts of websites out there pointing toward the NHL Draft, set to begin Friday night in Chicago.
Several mock drafts list Sioux City Musketeers right wing Eeli Tolvanen as a first-round selection. Two of them have Tolvanen going to the Florida Panthers as the 10th overall pick.
Another has the native of Nummela, Finland, being selected 12th by the Carolina Hurricanes. One suggests that he’s going to the New York Islanders as the 15th pick, while yet another site lists him at 17th, destined for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Of course, it feels nice that somebody thinks I’ve got some potential to go in the first round of the NHL Draft,” said Tolvanen. “I just need to keep working hard every day and do those little things right. The NHL has been my dream, my goal since Day 1. I think the NHL is every kid’s dream.”
Tolvanen’s dream is fueled by a deadly left-handed shot which took a United States Hockey League-best 246 shots this past season.
The Boston College recruit saved his best for his second year in the league, ranking third with 30 goals. Combine that with his 24 assists and it adds up to 54 points, the USHL's eighth-best.
Tolvanen helped the Musketeers win the Anderson Cup and the Western Conference regular-season title. Sioux City posted playoff wins over Des Moines and Waterloo before falling to Chicago in the Clark Cup Finals.
Could he be the second player from the Clark Cup Playoffs runner-up team to make the NHL in the future? Late last month, goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks signed a three-year entry level contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“There’s a lot of great players in the USHL and I think it’s one of the best junior hockey leagues,” said Tolvanen. “It’s hard to score in this league because there are great goalies like Matiss Kivlenieks.”
“I think Eeli will be a high pick in this year’s draft,” said Musketeers Coach Jay Varady. “He’s a great offensive talent. He has an elite shot and vision to make plays. Eeli brings potential to a league that covets speed and skill.”
Tolvanen scored 47 career goals in Sioux City, reaching six power-play goals each year. This season, he also tallied six game-winning goals.
“I think Eeli’s production has proven he can score,” said Varady. “The USHL is a hard league to produce in and he was able to score 30 goals. He has scored internationally at the 18-unders and also in the hardest environment in the 20-Unders World Juniors. He has scored on every stage.”
One knock against Tolvanen is his lack of size. However, the 5-foot-10, 170-pounder has also been credited for his ability to elude opponents and finish off the rush into scoring position.
“It means I’m going to do whatever it’s going to take to be a smaller player in the NHL,” said Tolvanen. “I am a goal scorer and just an all-around offensive guy. I think vision is one of the most important tools in the NHL and I think my vision is good.”
NHL Central Scouting graded Tolvanen high throughout the season. The 2016 USHL All-Rookie selection was named an “A” rated skater on last October’s NHLCS Preliminary List.
Tolvanen maintained that rating throughout the season. He was listed seventh in the January Midterm rankings for North American players and eighth in mid-April’s final rankings.
A-rated skaters are likely first-round NHL draft picks. The only USHL skater ranked higher than Tolvanen was Green Bay’s Casey Mittelstadt (3rd), who incidentally on one site, has been projected to be a first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, who will select eighth.
No matter where he ends up, Tolvanen values the time he spent with the Musketeers.
“Jay taught me a lot as a player,” he said. “Since Day 1 when I came to Sioux City, he helped me with my offense and defense. I think that’s the biggest thing of why I’m at this position right now. My time in Sioux City helped me a lot as a player and a person. Everything we did in the Musketeers was great.”
“I think we see a player like Eeli once every 10 or 15 years in Sioux City,” said Varady. “He is a special talent that chose to spend two years with us mostly because of the relationships he built with his teammates. Year 1, he was 16 years old in a new country and his first time away from home. In Year 2, he took on the responsibility of being an offensive player on a good team. He embraced it and wanted to score every time he stepped on the ice.”
ESPN college basketball and NBA draft expert Fran Fraschilla calls them “third-rounders.’’
They are players who had great careers at the college level and who might be able to play in the NBA but who aren’t quite good enough to be selected in the league’s annual two-round draft. They generally come up short in a couple of areas and end up having to battle their way up the ladder some other way, either in an international setting or the NBA’s Developmental League.
Peter Jok, Fraschilla said, is almost certainly a third-rounder.
Despite leading the Big Ten in scoring, breaking Iowa’s career free throw shooting record and setting assorted other records for the Hawkeyes, Jok is not likely to be selected when NBA teams sit down to divvy up the available talent Thursday night.
“He’s got one NBA skill and that is his range and his shooting,’’ Fraschilla said. “His body type and his ballhandling are the two major negatives.’’
But that is not to say that Jok couldn’t someday play in the NBA.
"He's one of those guys that will likely go undrafted and be playing in the Las Vegas Summer League for somebody,'' Fraschilla said. "When that happens, he's got to make open shots and he's got to prove that he can be a great teammate and he's got to give the team that puts him on their summer league team a reason not to cut him, and then decide 'You know what, we like this kid, let's see if we can get him on our D League team.'
"I think he's one of the guys that's going to be in the D League, and with some development, all of a sudden, a couple years later, you go, bam, Peter Jok, he's playing for the Washington Wizards.''
Fraschilla said the NBA draft now is all about drafting for potential and because of that, it favors players who have spent only one year in college over four-year men like Jok.
He said Jok’s stock was not any higher last year when he went through the draft process, then opted to come back for one more year at Iowa. He said the season that Jok had probably helped his stock somewhat.
But a trip to the NBA Combine in Chicago in May didn’t help.
While Jok had high marks in the shooting drills the players are put through in the camp, he did not produce much in the games. He played 45 minutes, made 2 of 13 shots from the field and finished with six points, four rebounds and eight fouls.
He also didn’t come out well in the phase of the camp in which players are measured in almost every imaginable way. Of the 21 shooting guards in Chicago, he had the 18th best vertical jump, the 19th biggest hands and the 19th lowest body fat content.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who is much higher on Jok as a potential draftee than the other Fran, said he simply told Jok to “keep grinding’’ when he went to the combine.
“You go to the combine and it’s a different situation,’’ McCaffery said. “There’s part of it where you’re playing and part of it where you’re interviewing. So, go just be himself and be honest.
“He’s just a tremendous human being. I think people will see that when they interview him. And then go play as well as you can play. It’s only two days, two games, and you only play half the game. With his body of work, having played the last four years, I think it’s less critical for him to do extremely well at the combine than maybe for a freshman who doesn’t have that body of work.’’
Jok also has done individual workouts with several teams since the combine.
Unfortunately, almost none of the published mock drafts mention Jok as a possible draftee.
He most likely will need to go the free agent route, as the Hawkeyes’ Jarrod Uthoff did a year ago. After playing in the D league, Uthoff ended up appearing in nine games with the Dallas Mavericks late in the season.
Fraschilla points out that such NBA stalwarts as Isaiah Thomas and Jeremy Lin have found NBA stardom without being drafted very high, if at all.
“That’s the beauty of our game …’’ he said. "Peter is going to get that opportunity because he can really shoot the ball from deep and that's something NBA teams value right now.''
SIOUX CITY | Christian Cabney was oozing with confidence after each inning he pitched Wednesday night.
Staked to a 2-0 lead after East’s baseball team scored twice in the bottom of the third inning in the opening game of a doubleheader against No. 1-ranked and defending Class 3A state champion Harlan, the senior right-hander pitched his best game of the season.
“We knew coming in that recently, I haven’t been throwing well, but I knew I needed to get the first out of every inning and I needed to get ahead in counts right away,” said Cabney, who scattered five hits and struck out four in 6 1/3 innings as the Black Raiders stunned Harlan 4-2 in the opener, but the Cyclones scored 10 runs in the top of the fifth inning of the nightcap en route to posting a 12-4 triumph.
“That’s how we were more successful. I had a couple of pitches working. That’s what I had today. Pretty much every inning I had the first out. That’s why we're so successful. We were putting up zeroes. The beginning of the season I wasn’t throwing that well, but now I’ve figured out what it was and I’ve gotten better.”
Cabney hiked his season pitching record to 2-1. He allowed single runs in the fourth and fifth innings, leaving after Harlan’s Connor Bruck walked with one out in the top of the seventh, throwing 95 pitches. East junior Christian Peterson struck out the two batters he faced and Coach Kevin Dicus’ squad handed the Cyclones their first loss after 18 straight wins.
“(Cabney) was lights out,” said Dicus. “My hat’s off to him. He did a great job. He came to play today. It was by far his best outing of the year. He’s a kid that throws the ball well. I’m proud of him for being on today.
“I challenged our pitchers today about going deeper in games. We just can’t keep going into the third and fourth innings, especially this week with seven games and playing four straight days. We have to have our starters go deep because with the pitcher limit rules, it puts a damper on you.”
Consecutive singles from Nate Zyzda and Kyle Burns, the No. 8 and No. 9 batters, put East in business in the third inning. Lucas Drent advanced both runners with a sacrifice. Zyzda scored on a passed ball and Burns scored on Sam Chadwick’s fielder’s choice.
Harlan, which was coming off a 7-6 eight-inning Hawkeye 10 Conference win over Lewis Central Tuesday night, pulled within a run in the fourth, but East regained the two-run advantage in the bottom of the fourth. Rafi Mejia doubled and scored on Alec Patino’s fielder’s choice for a 3-1 lead.
“We have a really good team on offense and I needed them in that game,” said Cabney. “We came out and we pounded the ball. We were getting base hits and we were scoring. I was very pleased with the way they played.
“You have a lot of momentum on your side and then you pitch a lot better because you have people who can put the ball in play. When I came in today, my mindset was, (Harlan) has nothing on me. I came in with a swagger and I showed them what I can do. I feel great that I gave them their first loss. Now I hope I keep pitching like that the rest of the season.”
East (9-13) rallied from a 2-0 deficit to score three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning of the second game. Lucas Drent singled and took third when Beau Bosley’s screaming grounder was mishandled by third baseman Connor Bruck and sailed into left field.
Josh Nutt and Rafi Mejia were hit by pitches. Bosley tied the game on Patino’s RBI single, then Nutt scored on Colton DeRocher’s single.
Nutt (1-2), the eventual losing pitcher, retired the first two Cyclones he faced in the top of the fifth, but the next 13 batters he faced reached, including Nick Foss, whose three-run double provided a 5-3 lead and, the eventual game-winning hit.
“We were all just trying to get up there and get good at-bats,” said Harlan designated hitter Jared Moss, his team’s leader with four hits in the nightcap, including a three-run double in the fifth. “After East took the lead, we just said keep playing ball, keep playing like we do and everything will work out. We just had to put the bat on the ball and make plays.”
“Granted we got the first two outs of that inning, but then we allowed 13 straight guys to reach,” said Dicus. “That’s been our nemesis the last two years. One crooked inning hurt us.”