SUDBURY, Ont. – Should Rayside-Balfour Canadians centre Nicholas DeGrazia hear his name called at some point during this weekend’s National Hockey League Draft, he would join select company in being chosen directly from a team in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
The 18-year-old Thunder Bay product was slotted 85th overall among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s final draft rankings released back on May 27.
It has been 20 years since a player from the league was directly selected by a NHL club in the draft from a NOJHL team.
In 10 outings during a COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 NOJHL campaign, DeGrazia had 15 points, including etching his name on the game sheet in the final six contests, while contributing seven tallies and eight assists.
Meanwhile his initial run in Jr. A hockey back in 2019-20 was stellar as he played at well over a point-per-game clip with 61 in 46 contests while notching 32 goals and helping set-up 29 others.
His marker total paced all first-year skaters in the league and he tied for top spot in points.
DeGrazia’s efforts earned him NOJHL Rookie of the Year laurels and a berth on the first all-star team at forward.
He was also a finalist for the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s Top Forward Award and earlier that season helped Canada East mine a silver medal at the World Junior A Challenge.
One of those who saw DeGrazia’s skill-set up close was Rayside-Balfour general manager Jeff Forsyth.
“Nick can absolutely fly,” offered Forsyth. “His first three strides are explosive and he has the ability beat defenders wide and drive the net, chipped in the Canadians’ GM.
“Add in the fact that he has worked very hard in each offseason to be stronger each year proves that he is committed to getting better day-by-day.”
Development remains a key to Rayside-Balfour’s program, with Forsyth providing: “As an organization, part of our job is to allow players the opportunity to further their careers. In two years with us, Nick took full advantage of every opportunity that he was presented with. He represented the Rayside-Balfour Canadians, NOJHL and his family with tremendous pride.”
In terms of what scouts may have saw in DeGrazia to escalate their interest in him, RBC head coach Vagelli Sakellaris said: “In my opinion what makes Nick DeGrazia the type of player NHL scouts are interested in is his elite speed and his work ethic. Nick has the ability to skate at top speed while maintaining control of the puck. There are players with similar quickness, but who do not possess the ability to make plays while maintaining that level of speed.”
Sakellaris also chimed in with: “Nick is also a tireless worker who is always trying to improve the different aspects of his game that will make him successful as he climbs the hockey ladder.”
The Canadians bench boss went on to add: “Nick possesses several key qualities that make a solid player. Last season we expanded Nick’s role from being relied upon offensively to using him in key defensive situations, such as the penalty kill, where he found success. He was able to create many key scoring chances for our team while being shorthanded.”
Looking back two decades ago, it was another Rayside-Balfour standout who was the last NOJHLer directly drafted by a NHL team right from the league.
In 2001, the Los Angeles Kings tabbed goaltender Sebastien Laplante from the powerful Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats with a ninth-round selection, 277th overall, at the event held in Sunrise, Fla.
Laplante backstopped the Sabrecats to a pair of NOJHL championships in his time in the league along with a Dudley-Hewitt Cup crown and a runner-up finish at the National Jr. A Championship in Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2000.
Thanks to the crack stats-keeping by NOJHL Historian, David Harrison, it’s no surprise that Laplante would go on to be a NHL draft choice.
His league numbers were impressive to say the least as he had a stellar 54-2-2 record between the pipes with Rayside-Balfour while posting seven shoutouts and sporting a 2.24 goal-against average.
He went on to play eight seasons professionally, highlighted by winning an IHL title in 2008-09 as a member of the Fort Wayne Komets.
Prior to that the Philadelphia Flyers selected defenceman Ray Giroux from the Powassan Hawks in the eighth round, 202nd overall, at the 1994 event that took place in Hartford, Conn.
Giroux was a 50-point man for Powassan in 1993-94 and produced over at over point-per-game pace in the playoffs helping the Hawks hoist the NOJHL championship trophy in his lone campaign with the club.
Giroux went on to a solid NCAA career at Yale where he went on to earn NCAA East First All-American; ECAC Best Defensive Defenseman; ECAC First All-Star Team and ECAC Player of the Year honours as a senior while being a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in U.S. college hockey.
He also went on to play 38 games in the NHL with New Jersey and the New York Islanders as well as putting up solid numbers in the AHL and in Europe.
The following is a list of players drafted by NHL clubs directly from NOJHL teams:
|PLAYER||POS.||NOJHL TEAM||YEAR||ROUND||OVERALL||NHL TEAM|
|Sebastien Laplante||G||Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats||2001||9||277||Los Angeles Kings|
|Ray Giroux||D||Powassan Hawks||1994||8||202||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Bob Sykes||LW||Sudbury Wolves||1971||5||65||Toronto Maple Leafs|
|Gerry Egers||D||Sudbury Wolves||1971||6||71||California Golden Seals|
|Elston Evoy||C||Soo Greyhounds||1971||11||112||New York Rangers|
|Bernie MacNeil||C||Espanola Eagles||1970||6||82||Detroit Red Wings|
|Pat Lange||G||Sudbury Wolves||1969||8||80||St. Louis Blues|
|Don Grierson||G||North Bay Trappers||1968||3||23||Montreal Canadiens|
|Rick Pagnutti||D||Garson-Falconbridge Native Sons||1967||1||1||Los Angeles Kings|
|Bob Tombari||LW||Soo Greyhounds||1967||1||7||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Bob Smith||C||Soo Greyhounds||1967||2||11||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|Jim Booth||LW||Soo Greyhounds||1964||2||8||Boston Bruins|