TORONTO, ONT – The lights of the NHL may seem like an often far dream from U SPORTS arenas, but it isn’t as far gone as it seems, with 10 players from 2022-23 and 2021-22 U SPORTS season being named to NHL Rookie Camp rosters.
A trio from U SPORTS teams have earned calls to NHL camps, while four graduated players from 2021-22 have gotten the nod. Meanwhile, three 2022-23 recruits test themselves against NHL junior competition before starting their U SPORTS seasons.
Straight from school: Luke Bignell, John Parker-Jones and Liam Hawel
Luke Bignell (Guelph Gryphons), John Parker-Jones (Windsor Lancers), and Liam Hawel (StFX X-Men) are the three players to play U SPORTS last season and in 2022-23 while earning a call from an NHL team.
Bignell, a third-year Gryphons defenceman, will head south to join the New Jersey Devils Rookie Camp at the Buffalo, N.Y.-based 2022 Prospects Challenge. There, he’ll represent the Metropolitan Division franchise against the prospects teams of the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The 6-foot-1 blueliner scored three goals and three assists with the Gryphons last season as they missed the playoffs but looked comfortable against U SPORTS opponents for the first time. He also earned OUA All-Rookie team honours.
While Bignell’s call is one factor, he’ll have the chance to face fellow OUA star in Windsor Lancer defenceman John Parker-Jones, who joins the Montreal Canadiens Rookie Camp.
At a towering 6-foot-7, Parker-Jones is one of the most intimidating OUA defencemen and played significant minutes for a youthful Lancers program in 2021-22. Scoring two goals and five assists in 15 games as a rookie highlighted Parker-Jones’ season, as the Lancers fell to the first-seed York Lions in the opening round of the playoffs.
This year, Parker-Jones has already played two games with the Lancers on a preseason trip to BC, which featured two wins against the UBC Thunderbirds.
On the offensive side of the game, AUS leading scorer Liam Hawel rejoins the Columbus Blue Jackets after participating in their summer prospects camp.
A former Kitchener Ranger, Hawel came to StFX as a highly-touted recruit and scored 18 goals and 37 points in just 24 regular-season games before adding four points in the AUS playoffs. 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, but takes on Rookie Camp this season with the Blue Jackets at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament.
The OUA defencemen battle takes the ice at the Prospects Challenge in Northern New York on Sept. 16.
Coming soon to U SPORTS near you (2022-23 recruits)
Their junior careers are behind them, but for three players bound for U SPORTS rinks this fall, an NHL Rookie Camp awaits them before the university seasons.
Jakin Smallwood (Alberta Golden Bears) joins the St. Louis Blues, while Cole Nagy (Acadia Axemen) links up with the Colorado Avalanche, all in addition to Simon Pinard (UNB Reds) preparing to pull on a Vancouver Canucks jersey.
Smallwood, who joins the Golden Bears after scoring 68 points in 68 games with the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice, heads to Traverse City, Michigan, for the Traverse City Prospects tournament. The Leduc, Alberta native has a heavy shot and is profiled as a power forward, and will hope the Blues camp prepares him for the grind of Canada West hockey.
On the AUS side, Cole Nagy gets a chance with the defending Stanley Cup championship organization, as the former WHL forward uses the Colorado Avalanche to kick-start his AUS rookie preparation.
Nagy scored 34 points in 48 games on the Prince Albert Raiders last season and will undoubtedly be a welcome addition to the Axemen this season. First, though, he plays with the Avalanche at the Rookie Tournament in San Jose, California.
Meanwhile, UNB Reds recruit Simon Pinard suits up with the Vancouver Canucks at the Young Stars Classic in Penticton, BC. Although the former QMJHL defenceman didn’t join the Canucks for the summer prospects development camp, his new UNB teammate Samuel Richard joined the Vancouver franchise for a stint in the crease.
Pinard attended Flordia Panthers development camp last season before scoring career bests with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and Gatineau Olympiques, with 44 goals and 47 assists.
Gone and growing: U SPORTS Alumni
They might not be preparing for U SPORTS seasons, but four student-athletes from the 2021-22 Canadian university season will attend NHL Rookie Camps. However, only one of them has an NHL contract set for this season.
Noah Philp signed a two-way NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers mere days after losing the U CUP final to the UQTR Patriotes in Nova Scotia and will attend the Oilers Rookie Camp and likely first-team camp as he looks to crack the NHL roster.
Santino Centorame, former St.FX X-Men captain, put pen to paper with the Canadiens organization to play for the AHL Laval Rocket in 2022-23.
Meanwhile, former Dalhousie Tiger Darien Kielb joins the Oilers camp, having left the Halifax university for the pros during the AUS winter Omicron pause. At the same time, Centorame left Wolfville with a bronze medal and is back on the ice this week with the Canadiens.
Out west, UNB standout Tyler Boland continues to seek an AHL role and will attend the Winnipeg Jets Rookie Camp after stints in the ECHL and with Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, last season.
Full list of U SPORTS players from 2021-22 and 2022-23 to earn NHL Rookie camp invites:
Simon Pinard – UNB
Darien Kielb – Dalhousie Tigers
Noah Philp – Alberta Golden Bears
Tyler Boland – UNB Reds
Cole Nagy – Acadia Axemen
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Jakin Smallwood – Alberta Golden Bears
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Liam Hawel – StFX X-Men
John Parker-Jones – Windsor Lancers
Santino Centorame – StFX X-Men
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Luke Bignell – Guelph Gryphons
Cover photo: Gar FitzGerald