The North American Hockey League is one of the top junior hockey leagues in the United States, and each year they host a draft.
The draft is intended for amateur players under 21 years who are not listed on an NAHL team roster. However, players who are listed on an NAHL team roster but played less than 10 NAHL regular season and/or playoff games during the 2019-20 season, did not accept a tender from an NAHL team before the 2020 NAHL Entry Draft, or who were not drafted in the 2020 NAHL Supplemental Draft are eligible for selection in the draft.
With the border currently closed between Canada and the United States, the status of the US-born players who were planning on playing in Alberta this year is still uncertain. This now allows the NAHL an opportunity to bring in players that perhaps wouldn’t have come.
Seven AJHLers were selected in the draft with three going in the first round.
The first player taken was Daniel Colabufo to the Maryland Black Bears at 10th overall. Colabufo recently signed with the Bonnyville Pontiacs and is one of their top recruits. With Lucas Thorne (College of Holy Cross) and Thomas Kramer (Babson College) both departing the team this summer, the opportunity is right there for Colabufo to become an instant contributor for Bonnyville. He’s currently committed to the College of Holy Cross for 2020-21.
Following Colabufo immediately at 11th overall was Dominick Campione to the Janesville Jets. Campione is a Brooks Bandits prospect who signed with them in April from the Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan. He’s an offensive defenceman from Kohler, Wisconsin, who played the last two seasons with Notre Dame. Campione had a fantastic season in 2020 scoring 11 goals and 45 points in 40 games for the Hounds.
The final AJHL player selected in the first round was Grande Prairie Storm’s new netminder Carl Stankowski. He was taken 19th overall by the Shreveport Mudbugs. Stankowski was acquired from the Penticton Vees in exchange for goaltender Kaeden Lane who was outstanding for the Storm in the playoffs. He comes with plenty of experience, having played three years in the WHL before departing for the BCHL last season. Grande Prairie look to be heading in a positive direction with new General Manager and Head Coach Mike Vandekamp now in charge. Stankowski is going to be heavily involved in those plans too.
It wasn’t until the 4th round that another AJHLer was taken. That player was Mack Stewart from the Lloydminster Bobcats. Stewart was acquired from the Prince George Spruce Kings last season and dressed in 53 games scoring 16 goals and 27 points. It was a great season for him but a disappointing season overall as Lloydminster missed out on the playoffs for the second season in a row. Stewart is an intriguing player as he is not a US-Born talent but instead was born in Vienna, Austria. From 2016 to 2018, he played over in Austria from the RB Hockey Academy before coming to Canada to play for the Calgary Royals and then start his junior hockey career. Ironically, Stewart was taken 90th overall by the NAHL’s Bobcats – the Bismarck Bobcats.
Next up was another player that is yet to play an AJHL game. Spruce Grove Saints recruit Nik Hong was taken in the 6th round, 138th overall, by the St Cloud Norseman. Hong was signed from Shattuck St. Mary’s who over the years have developed plenty of talent like Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, and Zach Parise. He was one of the Saints first signings of the offseason back in April. Hong had 13 goals and 34 points in 46 games for St. Mary’s last year and was described as a “200-foot player” by Saints General Manager Rob Skurluk in the team release. He’s a Minnesota native taken by a Minnesota team, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens here.
Jakob Karpa became the second Storm talent to hear his name called after he was selected in the 7th round, 178th overall, by the Chippewa Steel. Karpa signed in Grande Prairie from the Victory Honda program back in April. He’s regarded as a two-way defenceman who scored eight goals and 37 points in 72 games last season. Karpa is also the son of former NHL Dave Karpa who played 557 NHL games over 12 seasons.
The final AJHLer selected was Brooks Bandits defenceman Greg Japchen. Japchen was taken 215th overall, 8th round, by the Amarillo Bulls. He was one of those players that fall under the category of playing ten or fewer games having already played five games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights. According to Elite Prospects, Japchen is committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha for the next season; however, the Bandits recently updated their online roster, and he’s on it.
By the time hockey season comes around, the hope for the AJHL teams will be that its safe enough for the US players to cross the border and join them. However, with the uncertainty surrounding the Canada/US border, this was an opportunity for NAHL teams to select players who maybe wouldn’t have considered the league under other circumstances. Time will only tell what happens but let’s all hope that the players get to decide for themselves, and not be forced into a decision due to the current situation.