WATERLOO – The crystal ball is not clear, and it will take a year, possibly two before the picture becomes less murky.
That is the nature of the United States Hockey League’s Phase I draft. On Monday, 15 USHL teams selected players with 2004 birth dates, many of whom have yet to turn 16.
Waterloo Black Hawks head coach P.K. O’Handley and his staff feel good about the nine players they selected.
“Obviously, we think we did good,” O’Handley said shortly after the draft completed at 5:30 p.m. “They were all great on the phone. All were pretty excited to explore the possibilities as we go forward.”
Waterloo was without a pick in the first round of Phase I based on it tendering Shattuck St. Mary forward Michael LaStarza last month. Then, the Black Hawks traded out of the second round in a swap with the Omaha Lancers.
Michigan forward Owen Baker, who played for the Honeybaked program in Detroit, became Waterloo’s first pick with the 35th overall selection in the third round. In 14 games this winter, Baker had seven goals and 13 assists for the Honeybaked U15 squad.
“Shane (Fukushima, Waterloo’s associate head coach in charge of the draft) felt that it was a pretty good move and we got who we wanted. It was a pretty strategic move for us.
“Owen is a good player. I had a chance to see him at the Fall Classic. He fits us. Our group was confident with that pick.”
Waterloo also added a pair of Californians — James Hong of Irvine and Anthony Yu of Baldwin Park.
Two of the players came from the same Shattuck program as LaStarza, including LaStarza’s roommate Yu. In 45 games this year, Yu had 18 goals and 38 assists for the Sabres’ U15 team. The other was defenseman William Jones of Brentwood, Tenn.
“You go where you know, and that is natural,” O’Handley said of the pipeline of players Waterloo has grabbed from Shattuck over the years. “But we cast a wide net. The guys feel good. I have seen a couple of these guys myself. They are young guys and a lot has to happen.
“We feel pretty good that this was a good draft under unique circumstances.”
What was unique is that the architects of the Black Hawks’ picks did their work in three different states. Waterloo had a pair of scouts in Indiana, Fukushima and another scout in Wisconsin, and O’Handley and two assists in separate parts of Young Arena.
Phase II of the draft begins at 1 p.m. today.
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