Eye to the future

Massimo Rizzo in action in January.

Massimo Rizzo, captain of last season’s Penticton Vees, heard his name called at this past weekend’s NHL entry draft.

Rizzo was selected in the seventh round, 216th overall, by the Carolina Hurricanes.

After missing the first two months of the season, the Burnaby, B.C., native had eight assists in his first seven games back in the Penticton lineup. Shortly after that, he found his goal-scoring touch and ended the season at over a point a game with 40 in 37 contests.

Rizzo is committed to the University of North Dakota for 2019-20.

He was among the eight players drafted out of the BCHL over the weekend. The others were:

Alex Newhook (Victoria Grizzlies) – Round 1 (16th overall), Colorado Avalanche

The 18-year-old came into the draft ranked as the 13th North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. He led the BCHL in scoring this season with 102 points and took home the league’s MVP award.

Although it took until Colorado’s second pick of the draft for them to select him, Newhook wasn’t entirely surprise it was the Avs who snapped him up.

“Throughout the year, I always had a connection with (the Avalanche),” he said. “I felt like it could be a fit and I’m really happy to be a part of the Avalanche family.”

Following his Rookie of the Year campaign with the Grizzlies in 2017-18, it was thought that he might leave the BCHL last offseason to join the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), who held his CHL rights. Obviously, Newhook chose to remain in Victoria for his draft year and that choice ultimately paid off.

Newhook started his playing career in his hometown of St. John’s, Nfld., then moved to Ontario at the age of 14 and eventually ended up in Victoria to play in the BCHL.

Alexander Campbell (Victoria Grizzlies) – Round 3 (65th overall), Nashville Predators

Campbell was the second BCHL player to be taken after his teammate Alex Newhook went in the first round yesterday. The Chateauguay, Que. native will join an organization that already features BCHL alum Dante Fabbro.

Campbell, the BCHL Rookie of the Year, is eager to join a team that already has so many good pieces in place.

“They’ve got a hell of an organization,” he said. “A great group of forwards, defencemen and great goaltending, obviously. They’ve got a lot of good prospects coming up as well.”

Reflecting on his time with the Grizzlies, he recognizes the quality of the program they are running and how it helped raise his draft stock.

“Going into the year, I wasn’t on anyone’s lists, so I didn’t really have any expectations,” he said. “I had an amazing year (in Victoria). I definitely don’t regret going there at all.”

Campbell is committed to Clarkson University.

Layton Ahac (Prince George Spruce Kings) – Round 3 (86th overall), Vegas Golden Knights

Ahac was another player who saw his draft stock rise after a successful season in the BCHL. The two-year veteran of the league played his best hockey during the 2018-19 playoffs where he had 17 points in 17 games and led the Spruce Kings to a league title.

Being a local kid from North Vancouver, he was happy to have plenty of friends and family in the building cheering him on.

“My whole family is out,” he said. “I’ve also got tons of friends and past coaches who live locally. Their support has just been tremendous.”

Ahac will make the jump to the NCAA next season with Ohio State University.

Carter Berger (Victoria Grizzlies) – Round 4 (106th overall), Florida Panthers

In his third season in the league, Berger led all BCHL defencemen with 27 goals and was named a First-Team All-Star.

Another North Vancouver product, Berger got to experience being drafted in his hometown, which was extra satisfying after he was passed over in last year’s draft.

“It’s pretty special,” he said. “It’s always in the back of your mind, all season long, playing with a bit of a chip on your shoulder.”

Despite going undrafted last year, Berger was invited to Anaheim Ducks rookie camp last June. Heading into this year’s camp with Florida, he will hope to draw on his experience with Anaheim.

“Last year, going in, I was a little bit nervous and jittery,” he said. “This will be my second time around, so I know what to expect and I’ll be a lot more comfortable.”

Berger will head to the University of Connecticut in 2019-20.

Harrison Blaisdell (Chilliwack Chiefs) – Round 5 (134th overall), Winnipeg Jets

Blaisdell led the Chiefs in goals last season with 33 and finished the year with 58 points in 51 games.

His father Mike played nine seasons in the NHL and went through the draft himself back in 1980 when he was selected 10th overall by the Detroit Red Wings, so Harrison was able to lean on his dad’s experience during this stressful time.

“He’s been super supportive,” said Harrison. “He’s super calm and has taught me how to deal with this kind of stuff. It’s been really helpful to have him around.”

Blaisdell will play for the University of North Dakota next season.

Logan Neaton (Prince George Spruce Kings) – Round 5 (144th overall), Winnipeg Jets

The Jets took back-to-back BCHL players with their two fifth-round picks, taking Neaton at 144 overall after taking Blaisdell earlier in the round. The Brighton, Mich., native wasn’t on any draft rankings heading into the draft, but the selection is well-deserved as Neaton finished the regular season with the seventh-best goals-against average in BCHL history at 1.92. He was even better in the playoffs where he went 16-1 with a 1.46 goals-against and a .940 save percentage, leading the Spruce Kings to a Fred Page Cup title.

“It’s such an honour to be drafted by the Winnipeg Jets,” he said via Twitter. “Thank you to my friends, family, teammates and coaches for all the support along the way. I’m excited for what the future holds.”

Neaton is committed to UMass-Lowell.

Kevin Wall (Chilliwack Chiefs) – Round 6 (181st overall), Carolina Hurricanes

Another player who wasn’t on many people’s radar heading into the season, Wall, from Fairport, N.Y., immediately impressed teammates, fans and scouts with his goal-scoring ability this season.

He led all BCHL rookies with 31 goals and was named a First-Team All-Star and a member of the All-Rookie Team.

In November, he earned a scholarship to Penn State University where he will play the 2019-20 season.

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There were also several players selected who are committed to BCHL teams in 2019-20, including:

Jayden Struble (Victoria Grizzlies) – Round 2 (46th overall), Montreal Canadiens

Cade Webber (Penticton Vees) – Round 4 (99th overall), Carolina Hurricanes

Cooper Moore (Chilliwack Chiefs) – Round 5 (128th overall), Detroit Red Wings

Nikita Nesterenko (Chilliwack Chiefs) – Round 6 (172nd overall), Minnesota Wild

ICE CHIPS:

The highest number of BCHL players chosen in a single NHL draft was in 2004 when 12 were taken.

Three Victoria Grizzlies players were selected in the 2019 draft, marking the first time that’s happened since 2004 when the Salmon Arm Silverbacks had four players chosen.

Three of the eight BCHL players selected are from B.C. and six of eight are from Canada.