VANCOUVER, BC – Six U SPORTS hockey players from 2021-22 will hit the ice at NHL Prospect Development Camps over the next week, as many franchises re-introduce the developmental step for the first time in two years
This summer, players from Queen’s, UNB, StFX, UQTR, Alberta and Mount Royal head to NHL cities with hopes of impressing ahead of potential future opportunities.
Let’s take a look at whose hitting NHL summer ice this week.
G Luke Richardson, Queen’s (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The Tampa Bay Lightning have made the last three Stanley Cup finals, winning two of them, and they’ve done so with former Canadian university hockey talent in management. Now, they are looking at Queen’s Gaels netminder Luke Richardson, among three other goaltenders at the camp.
Former McGill varsity player Mathieu Darche is Tampa Bay’s Director of Hockey Operations and likely played a role in calling the OUA veteran into the summer sessions.
Richardson has played with the Queen’s Gaels for the last three years but missed out on 2020-21 due to COVID-19. He played 28 games at a .908 save percentage in his rookie campaign before improving his numbers this past season, posting a .944 through 11 regular-season games.
Richardson, 23, is still relatively young in terms of goaltenders but will gain valuable experience this summer before heading back to Kingston as Queen’s looks to take its next step towards its first Queen’s Cup since 2019.
G Alexis Gravel, UQTR (Seattle Kraken)
One of two U SPORTS players participating at Kraken camp, Alexis Gravel, has a legitimate chance of earning an ECHL or AHL contract, having put in stellar performances to lead the UQTR Patriotes to the OUA Championship and University Cup.
Gravel is young at 22-years-old but has quite a resume. The Chicago Blackhawks selected him 162nd overall in the 2018 NHL Draft; he has attended Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens prospect camp and already has ECHL games under his belt with the Allen Americans.
In 2021-22, he posted a .924 save percentage through the OUA regular season in 11 games before catching national eyes with 66 saves on 70 shots in the U CUP final against a high-flying Alberta Golden Bears offence.
While he is on the younger side, the 6-foot-3 goaltender has the qualities needed to thrive at a minor pro-level and could be one for the future in a Kraken organization with a barren prospect cupboard.
As of now, don’t count on Gravel re-joining UQTR in the fall; he could very well be playing in the pros.
F Liam Hawel, StFX (Columbus Blue Jackets)
When a holiday wave of COVID-19 halted the AUS season for two months, two of the three leading scorers signed pro contracts. Dalhousie’s Derek Gentile and Saint Mary’s Mitch Balmas left for pro pastures, yet StFX’s Liam Hawel stayed and thrived.
A former Kitchener Ranger, Hawel came to StFX as a highly-touted recruit and did not disappoint as a rookie, scoring 18 goals and 37 points in just 24 regular-season games before adding four points in the AUS playoffs.
Led by his offensive output, the StFX X-Men became AUS finalists and won the bronze medal at the University Cup. In addition, Hawel earned AUS MVP and Rookie of the Year honours while being named to the AUS first-team all-stars.
The native of Arnprior, Ont. was the 101st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars and attended their Development Camp that season.
Hawel has the speed and skill to fit in at the pro level and could have signed out of school this past year, but opted to at least finish the season.
Joining the Blue Jackets this week, however, he will look to showcase the touch he showed in seven games with the AHL’s Laval Rocket in 2020-21 as he seeks another professional deal.
The 23-year-old has the flexibility to sign pro or go back to U SPORTS, a fact afforded by few Canadian university players.
F Riley Sawchuk, Mount Royal (Seattle Kraken)
Joining Alexis Gravel in Seattle, Riley Sawchuk gets his chance to impress the NHL’s newest franchise. Sawchuk had pro opportunities last season but chose to stay at MRU while many of his teammates left. Still, he’s earned a nod to an NHL camp.
The centreman scored 15 goals and 38 points in 20 games as a Canada West rookie with Mount Royal and earned Rookie of the Year honours in the conference.
While he finished a point short of his teammate Nolan Yaremko and the conference’s scoring lead, the native of Prince Albert, Sask. was one of the most electrifying offensive players in 2021-22.
At 5-foot-10, Sawchuk is far from the most prominent player on the ice, a factor which could play against him at the professional level, but his ability to turn quickly is what helped him find success at MRU and will continue aiding him at the next level.
There is little doubt that Sawchuk turns pro at some point, but likely not with the Kraken out of camp this season. However, he does get the chance to play alongside the 2022 4th overall pick and former exceptional status OHL forward Shane Wright.
Pro contract or not, an NHL camp is invaluable experience and training for Sawchuk ahead of the U SPORTS season.
F Noah Philp, Alberta (Edmonton Oilers)
Noah Philp doesn’t have to earn himself a contract, just a roster spot. After winning Canada West gold and University Cup silver, the tenacious forward signed an NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers in April.
He joined the Oilers’ AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, for three games before the end of the season and will be added to the Oilers’ 50 NHL contracts in 2022-23.
At 6-foot-3 and 198-pounds, Philp is a player the Oilers see a future with after he scored 27 points in 28 Canada West games as a rookie in 2019-20 and tallied 11 points in just eight regular-season games in 2021-22.
He is an elite-level playmaker at the junior and U SPORTS levels and has started developing those skills at the pro level. Additionally, his brother and former Alberta Golden Bear Luke Philp is working his way up the Calgary Flames system.
The 23-year-old Noah won’t be back with the Golden Bears come the fall, as he is using the Prospect Development Camp as a stepping stone in preparation for the NHL preseason and likely the AHL regular season in Bakersfield.
F Ryan Roth, New Brunswick (St. Louis Blues)
Ryan Roth didn’t play many games with the UNB Reds, just six, if we’re to be exact. Still, he played U SPORTS in 2021-22 and will attend an NHL Prospect Development Camp as he suits up with the St. Louis Blues.
A native of Missouri, Roth played for the St. Louis AAA Blues in minor hockey before moving onto the USHL and OHL, and eventually the UNB Reds. While Roth scored two goals and four points in his six AUS games, he quickly fled for the ECHL when the Omicron wave of COVID-19 hit, signing with the Jacksonville Icemen before finishing the 2021-22 season playing for the Reading Royals and Adirondack Thunder.
The 5-foot-9 has struggled to produce offensively since a 50-point OHL season with the Sarnia Sting in 2019-20 but has a chance to impress in front of the St. Louise staff as the 21-year-old looks to earn an AHL look for the first time in his career.