Three Gophers have eyes on NHL Draft

David La

By the conclusion of this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft in Calgary, Alberta, three Gophers hockey players — two current and one incoming — will learn their skills are wanted by one of the league’s 30 teams.
For sophomores Jeff Taffe and Matt DeMarchi, and incoming freshman Paul Martin of Elk River, a portion of their dreams will be realized when their names are called somewhere in the draft’s nine rounds.
They may not have to wait long. There is a strong possibility that the trio of Minnesotans will all be selected in one of the draft’s first three rounds on Saturday, at which point the current Gophers roster will feature 11 players whose rights belong to a NHL franchise.
Likely to lead the maroon and gold contingent in the draft is sophomore forward Jeff Taffe. Coming off a debut season in which he finished 10th among WCHA freshman in scoring (19 pts.), the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Taffe is likely to go in the late first round.
Scouts rate Taffe as a solid skater with exceptional puckhandling ability, and as Gophers head coach Don Lucia pointed out, “With Jeff, you’re looking at a guy that’s eventually going to be a 6-foot-3, 200-pound skilled forward. They’re hard to find.”
While only contributing four points last season, sophomore defensemen Matt DeMarchi is lauded by scouts for his speed, a hard slapshot and grit.
Though raw and still growing, DeMarchi “skates very well for a big guy,” Lucia said. “He’s still lean right now but you’re looking at a guy that’s someday going to be 210 pounds when he fills out. He’s got good feet, he’s aggressive and very tough.”
Fellow defenseman Paul Martin is a playmaking blueliner in the mold of NHL great Paul Coffey. Minnesota’s 1999-2000 Mr. Hockey Award winner, Martin rang up 50 points in his senior season at Elk River. He joins the Gophers this fall.
The dilemma of being drafted
In hockey, unlike football or basketball, a player’s rights are retained throughout their college career. When a player graduates or decides to forgo his remaining eligibility, the team with his rights has 30 days to make an offer.
For the players, as well as their coaches, this process can prove to be burdensome.
“The biggest pain is you have to deal with the agent aspect of it,” Lucia said. “They’re always around trying to arrange things because they only make money when a guy signs.”
Beyond agents looking for a signature are the teams looking to persuade.
Glen Sonmor, the Minnesota Wild’s amateur scout for the Midwest region said, “There are some NHL teams, ours, the Wild, is not one of them, that are convinced that the kids should accelerate their program and get into the Canadian junior leagues.”
Sonmor, who also calls Gophers hockey games for KSTP-AM 1500, believes the virtues of the college hockey experience are worth the wait for both the player and his future team.
Lucia agrees, noting that while the junior league’s larger schedules ensures more game experience, it is the opportunity for practice and development — especially physical — that gives college programs their lure.
“They have to be ready physically,” Lucia said. “That’s the biggest step.”
The coach is also an advocate for higher learning, with only the most golden of opportunities taking precedence.
“My opinion is unless they’re going to go to the NHL for a big-money contract, they should finish college and get their education,” Lucia said.
For Taffe, DeMarchi and Martin, this weekend’s draft is sure to offer its share of educational value down the road.

David La Vaque welcomes comments at [email protected]