FRASER, Mich. – As the temperature heats up outside and summer is a few weeks away, the Metro Jets have begun to ramp up their preparations for the 2017-18 NA3HL season.
The team, which went 47-0-0 last season, winning the league regular-season title, going a third straight season as East Division champions and setting a junior hockey record while reaching the Silver Cup National Championship game for the second straight year and tournament for third straight year, is eyeing acquiring some fresh talent during the NA3HL Draft on Tuesday, June 13 at 6 p.m. EST.
“The draft is an important time of the year for the NAHL and NA3HL because of the process and preparation for our hockey staff in getting here,” said Jets coach-GM Justin Quenneville. “We look to continue to be strategic with some of the moves we make and how we approach the draft every offseason. This year, we have more or less mirrored the previous draft by acquiring more tenders to sign players. It’s a unique process for players, but every decision we make in the end always comes down to the type of players we are looking for.
“Every year, we feel fortunate that the crop of players we are investing into and always enjoy looking back after the season to see the players’ progressions.”
The draft plays a vital role in the Jets restocking their roster and in recent memory, Jets draft picks have been impact players for the franchise – last year’s captain and NCAA Division III Johnson and Wales commit Graham Day was taken in 2014, as was goaltender Jake Gwillim, who played for the Jets last season and parts of the 2015-16 season and is off to NCAA D-III Aurora University this fall.
For the Jets, continuing their tradition of excellence entering season No. 29 means it’s not about rebuilding, but reloading.
Last year, the team moved up more players to the NAHL during the season for the fourth consecutive year with seven for a total of nearly 30 over that stretch – defenseman Robby Flannery (Springfield Jr. Blues), goaltender Andrew Kormos (Kenai River Brown Bears) and defenseman George Hansen (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights), to name three – and no other team or league has come close to these marks.
In fact, the NA3HL saw over 65 NAHL call-ups during the 2016-17 season. The next closest league had only two – a huge gap in opportunities.
Metro also has two more players tendered to NAHL clubs for 2017-18 – Kormos with the New Jersey Titans and reigning NA3HL MVP Louis Boudon with the Northeast Generals, a team he was promoted to during this past season and scored two goals in two games during his stint.
Combine that with the four NCAA commitments thus far from the 2016-17 season (and nearly 15 over the past three seasons), as well as alums Steven Oleksy (Toronto Maple Leafs, won Stanley Cup in 2016 with Pittsburgh Penguins) and Alex Nedeljkovic (Carolina Hurricanes) playing in the NHL, and it’s easy to see why the Jets are one of the flagship franchises in all of Junior A Hockey.
Gwillim (Muskegon Lumberjacks) and forward Kevin Shand (Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, now playing NCAA D-III hockey at the Milwaukee School of Engineering) have also seen time in the USHL, while goaltender Devin Williams played five seasons with the Erie Otters of the OHL from 2011-16.
“It’s not a secret that we pride ourselves on the development and the opportunities we strive to reach with every player,” Quenneville said. “Whether it’s the number of NAHL opportunities players are taking advantage of or the NCAA and ACHA schools that continue to look to our club for players, we will not stop at providing a platform that will give these young men every opportunity ahead of them. It seems like every week, we have a NAHL or NCAA coach calling us about our players and in the end, that is what this is all about. These coaches are looking for specific types of young men, and we have the tools here to help expose our players every year.
These days, it seems like other leagues and teams focus too much on convincing these young players what they need to do, but we always encourage players and families to educate themselves on their options and in the end, they will more than likely make decisions they don’t end up regretting.”
Recently, the Jets made a few trades prior to the upcoming draft.
First, the Jets obtained Orion, Mich., native and 1997 birth year power forward Aaron Shahin from the Niagara Falls PowerHawks for a fourth-round pick in next week’s draft.
The Jets then acquired ‘97 forward and St. Clair Shores, Mich., product Matt LaForest from the Evansville Jr. Thunderbolts for future considerations and then picked up two more tender contracts from the New England Stars for the club’s first-round pick next week.
Shahin compiled 12 goals and 22 points in 40 games last season with the Lockport Express (now PowerHawks), while LaForest, who started the 2015-16 season with the Jets, went for 14 goals and 30 points in 43 games last season.