With the NFL draft completed, there is just one other draft that affects the University of Wisconsin this season—the NHL draft. The Badgers are not unaccustomed to having prospects and players be drafted in to the league, but as of late it has cost the Badgers a lot of continuity.
The latest example of that came with the pledge made by forward Nic Kerdiles after being drafted. He was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NHL Early Entrant draft, No. 36 overall by the Anaheim Ducks, and at the time he said he planned to stick out his time at Wisconsin. However, that clearly didn’t happen and it’s hard to blame him considering the offer on the table from the Ducks and the NCAA microscope he was put under from day one.
On the ice it’s a huge blow, as Kerdiles had 15 goals in 28 games this past season and UW will go in to 2014-15 with seven of its top eight scorers gone from last year. However, UW is counting on youngsters to pick up the pace, including the likes of Adam Rockwood and Matt Ustaski.
Both of those young forwards are seeing their stock rise on the NHL level, especially in the case of Rockwood. After a blazing season in the British Columbia Hockey League, Rockwood has moved up 61 positions in the latest rankings by the Red Line Report (an independent hockey scouting service), as pointed out by Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal.
He is currently on the edge of the fifth round, at No. 155, thanks to a season that saw him rack up a BCHL-best 61 assists and finish fifth in the league with 74 points. At 5’9″, Rockwood is on the small side for a forward at the NHL level, but he is perhaps one of the best skating players eligible for the draft this season and he showcased that with 20 assists in the postseason up in Canada.
Ustaksi, who is signed on for next season at Wisconsin, is seen as the No. 210-ranked prospect and a likely late-round pick. He also happens to be the exact opposite of Rockwood, standing at 6’6″ and 210 pounds. He uses his size well and could be a major force early on in his college career.
Those two players could be the backbone of an offensive system looking to replace a lot of firepower off to the NHL.
While Kerdiles was a near guarantee to end up at the NHL level before his eligibility was up, this year the Badgers have to watch out for a similar situation on the defensive end of the ice. Jack Dougherty, who has signed for the Badgers next season, is looked at as a borderline first round prospect. RLR currently ranks him as the No. 34 prospect heading in to the June 27-28 draft in Philadelphia.
Dougherty played with the US National Development Team in the USHL, as well as played for the U18 National Team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. During his time in the USHL this year Dougherty racked up 5 goals, 8 assists and a huge +21 with 41 penalty minutes.
While head coach Mike Eaves needs to recruit and get top level talent to Madison, UW has been walking a very fine line between finding elite talent and not keeping enough players around to have a consistent program.
Losing Kerdiles at least a year early was a huge blow to the game plan of the 2014-15 season, and a quick look at the Badger prospects in the 2014 NHL draft shows it could face a similar situation in the near future as well.
At some point, Wisconsin needs to find a way to strike a better balance between elite talent that may walk early and talent that will stick around for more than a year or two. If you want to find a reason why UW has been stuck in NCAA first-round limbo as of late, look no further than the annual roster upheaval that has been happening over the last three-plus years.
Ultimately, there are no easy answers to this dilemma and Wisconsin may be better off riding the coattails of elite talent for as long as they’ve got them and continue to recruit and sign the best of the best to replace them. UW just needs to make sure the players they sign that do stick around are great leaders, because that will be what’s needed to help a program that goes through so much change on a yearly basis.