Man, oh, man, have times changed.
Back in the bad, old days of the Original Six, there was no such thing as the Entry Draft similar to the flesh-pedding event coming up in Buffalo this coming weekend.
You won’t believe it but, once upon a time, before there ever was a Draft, the National Hockey League featured something curious called “The 50-Mile Rule.”
In theory this regulation meant that a team such as the Rangers had first dibs to sign any promising young player who grew up within a 50-mile Radius of Madison Square Garden.
Problem was that in those Post-World War II years the only things that looked like “prospects” around New York, New Jersey or Connecticut were life-size cardboard figurines in Cosby’s hockey store next to the old Garden
No — and I mean absolutely no — hockey players were growing in our vicinity.
Ironically, the only native New Yorker skating in the NHL through two decades starting in 1940 was Bill Chadwick; and he happened to be a one-eyed referee.
Sure, the 50-Mile Rule was terrific for the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. And even Detroit, Boston and Chicago.
The Habs nabbed all the best Quebec Province skaters such as Maurice (Rocket) Richard, Jean Beliveau and Jacques Plante while the Leafs claimed the likes of Hall of Famer Frank (Big M) Mahovlich.
So unfair was the 50-Mile Rule that finally, in 1963 the NHL decided on a more equitable player-distribution system and the Entry Draft was born.
As a result the Rangers were able to sign such worthies as Brian Leetch and Henrik Lundqvist while the Islanders’ dynasty was built around draftees Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies, among many others.
Not that the Devils did badly either. Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer was a Draft product as was his goalie Martin Brodeur as well as Mister Devil, Ken Daneyko.
With the sprouting of rinks all over the Met Area the chances of local boys making good in The Show are better than ever. The following are my Big Five local players to watch when the Draft curtain opens in Buffalo on Friday night.
Interestingly, three out of the quintet hail from Long island, home of such other talents as Jeremy Bracco, Sonny Milano and Bradon Fortunato, just to name a few.
1. CHARLIE MCAVOY
Clearly the very best of the Locals, the Long Beach, Long Island product boasts both the pedigree and critics’ acclaim since starring at Boston University.
Tim Rappleye, who I rate as one of the continent’s top hockey talent appraisers, waxes ecstatic in New York Hockey Journalabout the 6-foot, 205-pound defenseman now at Boston University.
“McAvoy,” lauds Rappleye, “is a classic two-way defenseman who has no gaps in his offensive repertoire. He can carry the mail, find tape on the first pass, run a power play and crank a heavy shot from the right side point.
“On the other side of the puck he delights scouts by playing with an edge. He’s also high on hockey sense, composure and poise.”
Projected to be drafted somewhere between the 10th to 20th choice, the son of a fireman who still plays — and coaches — hockey, Charlie already has experience in the World’s Junior Championship and college hockey.
The Game’s bible, The Hockey News, projects McAvoy as the 18th pick which means that both the Devils (11th) and Islanders (19th) have a shot at corralling him.
“Charlie’s best asset,” claims The Hockey News, “is his ability to get around on the ice and his willingness to make mistakes because nine out of 10 times he gets away with it. His abilities are coming out and he doesn’t dumb himself down.”
CBS’ collegiate hockey analyst, David Starman, is a fellow Long Islander who has carefully studied McAvoy’s rise.
“What impresses me about Charlie,” Starman opines, “is that he’s got both the physical and mental tools and he’s on the right track.”
On the minus side, BU disappointed as an NCAA contender and McAvoy’s star plummeted simultaneously. While some optimists believe he could go as early as 12th overall in the Draft it wouldn’t surprise if no team calls his name until No. 20 is on the line.
2. CHAD KRYS
Although the birddogs are not doing cartwheels of joy about this Ridgefield, Connecticut defender the way they had done earlier about McAvoy, it’s likely all about size.
Standing 5-foot-11, 183 pounds, Krys nevertheless made the WJC squad for Helsinki, helping Uncle Sam to win the Bronze Medal.
“Chad’s first pass out of the zone is exceptional,” beams one scout.
Another scout also raves: “At the end of the day, he’s one heck of an athlete, with high-end power in his legs. Two strides and he’s gone.”
According to The Hockey News’ forecast, Krys could go as the 42d pick, which puts him in the second round and that’s not bad at all.
3. TAGE THOMPSPON
New York Hockey Journal’s Rappleye prefers forward Tage Thompson from Oyster Bay, Long Island over Krys. Some birddogs claim that Thompson has a “big upside.”
The 6-foot-4, 185 pounder who skates for the University of Connecticut is the son of American Hockey League coach — and ex-NHLer — Brent Thompson of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. “He could be a late first-rounder,” another scout suggests.
However The Hockey News places Thompson five slots behind Krys, but with some enthusiasm. “In terms of size and results,” reports THN, “Thompson looks like a no-brainer. He was the University of Connecticut’s second leading scorer.”
“Tage is a top-six forward prospect,” says Rappleye, “with ample hockey smarts.”
4. ADAM FOX
Nassau County hockey-watchers know this 5-foot-10, 183-pound defenseman out of Jericho as a skilled playmaker with elite hockey sense.
“Size might be an issue with NHL scouts,” warns Rappleye.
The Hockey News — slotting him at 79th pick — likes “his vision and poise.”
Craig Button, one of the NHL Network’s wise men, admits he needed time to appreciate Fox. “He’s a really good player,” Button insists. “His poise and precision passing is so efficient. He’s a solid NHL prospect because there’s no area of the game that he can’t excel in.”
Drafted by Kitchener of the Ontario (Junior) Hockey League in 2014, Fox is committed to Harvard. Right now he looks like he’ll be plucked somewhere in the third round.
5. CAM DINEEN
You don’t ever hear about Toms River, New Jersey as a hockey incubator, but that could change with defenseman Dineen. He spent the last season with the North Bay (Ontario) Battalion of the OHL and favorably turned a few heads while there.
“Cam’s hockey sense is above average,” says one scout. “A lot of us went up there to see him play because he excelled in one of the best leagues of its level.”
The fact that Dineen has been getting advice from Hall of Famer-turned-agent Bobby Orr hasn’t hurt Cam.
“Granted that Cam isn’t a Bobby Orr,” a scout concedes, “but he’s a good player and should be picked by the third round.”
The Hockey News slots him at 81, two after Adam Fox.