Minor League Sports

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, USHL conduct annual drafts despite uncertain times

Phase I, Phase II drafts are Monday, Tuesday

The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders' Grant Silianoff (9), top left,  takes the puck through traffic behind the Des Moines Bucca
The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders’ Grant Silianoff (9), top left, takes the puck through traffic behind the Des Moines Buccaneers’ goal during a USHL game at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena on Saturday, January 11, 2020. (Cliff Jette/Freelance for The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The United States Hockey League conducts its annual drafts Monday and Tuesday.

It’s a 3 p.m. start for Monday’s Phase I draft of players with a 2004 birth date. The main, Phase II draft, has a 1 p.m. beginning Tuesday.

This is an online thing, like the recent NFL Draft, though the USHL always does it that way. Minus the commissioner announcing each pick.

That hasn’t changed. What has changed is a little more time for league clubs to prepare, since games abruptly ended a month-and-a-half ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And there has been a little less in-person viewing and contact with potential draftees. Not that Cedar Rapids RoughRiders Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson is sweating that thing.

“Probably like a lot of our clubs in our league, a lot of this starts (last) June,” he said. “So I think everybody was able to get out and see a real good amount of live hockey. It’s different, for sure, but I do think everyone has a good recollection of what they were able to see live.”

Carlson, his assistant coaches and scouts will rely on that to build the 2020-21 team. The protected lists for each club are closely guarded secrets, but it’s believed Cedar Rapids has 16 players on its.

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Those are guys who could return this coming season from last season’s team or guys who could graduate from the affiliate roster of younger players. The RoughRiders are believed to have the possibility of multiple returning defensemen and three goaltenders who saw time (Aidan Harper, Andrew Pichora and Nick Simo).

Pichora and Simo were pressed into action late because of injuries to Harper and Derek Mullahy, who is moving on to Harvard. Pichora, as a matter of fact, was recently awarded the USHL’s Save of the Year in an online vote by fans.

Other guys who, for sure, are going to college include forwards Grant Silianoff, Jackson Jutting and Jordan Tonelli, and defensemen Jack Millar and Darian Gotz. After Tuesday’s Phase II draft, each USHL team will have an initial roster of 45 players.

Carlson was asked if the number of graduates to college hockey this year was affected at all by the pandemic.

“I don’t think that has really changed anything as far as guys returning,” he said. “The guys who were originally planning on going to school are going to go to school. I haven’t seen a ton of difference as far as that goes.”

There also isn’t a big difference in the amount of pre-draft tenders by USHL clubs. There are eight of them, though the RoughRiders aren’t among clubs that took one.

Tenders count as a team’s first-round (or second round, as Tri-City and Chicago tendered two players) pick in the Phase I draft, with the player having to play in a certain number of regular-season games.

How post-draft tryout camps are going to work is anyone’s guess at this point. Those come in early summer and always provide at least a couple of non-drafted gems for the RoughRiders that make the team and an impact.

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And then there are foreign players. How will the pandemic affect their desire or ability to come to the USHL?

“There are a lot of questions around how camps are going to go, so we want to try and make sure we do the right things,” Carlson said. “Kind of evaluate as we move forward to make sure we are doing what is right and safe for everybody.”

That also can be said about the actual draft itself. In years past, Carlson, his assistants and a scout or two congregate in Carlson’s office, which acts as the club’s war room.

But it’s a cramped space, for sure, not exactly safe during these social distancing times. Could you imagine the RoughRiders conducting their draft in Carlson’s backyard at home, weather permitting, with everyone in attendance wearing a mask and sitting at least 6 feet apart?

Hey, it’s not as crazy as it sounds right now.

“We’ll do it a little different,” Carlson said. “I have some ideas about things, but I’m not exactly sure how we are going to do it, yet. We’ll be together somewhere practicing social distancing.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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