Mike Vellucci had a pretty good idea the Plymouth Whalers could be well represented in the first round even before the NHL Entry Draft began last week.
Vellucci figured right winger Stefan Noesen could be selected anywhere from 20th to 25th and that center Rickard Rakell could fall into the 25th to 30th pick range.
The Whalers head coach was right on both accounts.
Noesen was selected by Ottawa with this 21st overall pick and Rakell went to Anaheim with the 30th selection, marking the first time since 2001 the Whalers had two players selected in the first round.
“Obviously, we’re very proud of the players, but I think it speaks volumes for the organization and the way we’re developing players,” Vellucci said Tuesday.
Garrett Mears and Matt Mahalak rounded out the Whalers’ draft night selections, being chosen in the fifth round by Colorado and in the sixth round by Carolina, respectively.
While the players are now officially NHL property, Vellucci expects all four will return to Plymouth for the upcoming season.
Noesen, who finished tied for the team lead in scoring with 77 points (33 goals/44 assists) with Robbie Czarnik, and Rakell (20-25-45) will both get their shots with their new clubs when training camp rolls around, Vellucci knows they still have plenty of room to grow.
“Even though they were drafted, it’s still a process,” he said. “They’re still only 18 years old and they still have to develop physically and mentally.
“We know what they have to work on and we talk to the NHL teams to find out what they are looking from them as players. We understand that and we’ll develop them more when they are here.”
Noesen had a breakout year last season after registering only three goals and five assists in the Ontario Hockey League his rookie year.
While his numbers were down, his first season proved valuable.
“It was a very big learning experience,” Noesen told TSN. “My first year was very rough.
“I knew what I had to do to get better. I knew I had to mature as an individual so once I took care of the off-ice stuff, the on-ice stuff started clicking.”
Rakell’s time in Plymouth has also been beneficial. The Swedish-born 18-year-old said he would have toiled in smaller leagues back home had he not chosen to make the trip to the United States.
He credits his experience with the Whalers as a major factor in him being drafted in the first round.
“It’s a happy ending,” he told Anaheimducks.com. “(Coming to the states) has done a lot for me. Just to practice every day, play in a small rink and get a lot of ice team has helped me a lot instead of just staying at home. Coming over here was a real good choice for me.”
Vellucci will monitor this week’s Canadian League Import Draft but because the Whalers already have two European players on their roster in Rakell (Sweden) and defenseman Dario Trutmann (Switzerland), Plymouth is not eligible to take part in the draft.
Vellucci said he remains active on the phones with other OHL coaches as the draft approaches should the Whalers find themselves in position to make a move via a trade.