Escapee…

In John Marks’ mind, none of this makes any sense.

The Fargo Force head coach said Saturday he was surprised defenseman and now-former team captain Brian Cooper (Nebraska-Omaha) only went in the fifth round of the NHL Draft of Saturday.

“It couldn’t have been something off-ice,” Marks said.

Cooper was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks with the 127th pick in the draft, one spot below teammate and forward Dominic Toninato (Minnesota-Duluth) was taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Marks said he was happy the Force had three players – Cooper, Toninato and Colton Hargrove (Western Michigan) – were all drafted tying a franchise record of three players taken in the draft. Hargrove was taken in the seventh round by the Boston Bruins.

Still, it left Marks wondering why teams didn’t take Cooper in the earlier rounds.

“He’s a 4.0 student, did really well from school, did really well away from school too,” Marks said. “He has everything you’d want in a kid.”

Cooper said Saturday he was projected to go anywhere from the third to the seventh round. He said going in the fifth round met that projection.

Though Cooper did fall within those parameters, going in the fifth round did raise some eyebrows considering Chicago Steel defenseman Jaccob Slavin (Colorado College) was taken towards the end of the fourth round by the Carolina Hurricanes.

By comparison, Cooper was a bit more well-known than Slavin coming to the draft.

Cooper’s name might have carried more notoriety given he has been talked about since he came into the league at 15. He also had been talked about as one of three USHL players to watch last April for the 2012 NHL Draft by NHL Central Scouting.

Yet Cooper’s offensive production wasn’t what some were considering. Cooper’s second season with the Force resulted in a 33-point season largely predicated on his ability to lead the rush, buzz the net and use a booming hit when needed to free the puck and create chances at the other end.

This past season saw a different version of Cooper. He was more of a stay-at-home defenseman. Cooper did get points, scoring 24, but those rushes which became synonymous with his game were not frequent. Cooper was still a second-team selection to the all-USHL team.

But choosing Slavin might not be all that surprising considering he had better numbers than Cooper.

Slavin was a integral part of the revival that was the Chicago Steel’s season. The Steel won nine games in the 2010-11 season and bounced back this season to contend for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference before falling short.

At 6-2 and 170 pounds, he put up 30 (three goals, 27 assists) in 60 games for the Steel this season.

Marks was then quick to point out he believes Cooper could make the NHL, it just might not be as a defenseman.

“I could see him making the move to forward,” said Marks, who spent nine NHL seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. “That’s what I did. I was an All-American at defense my last two years of college and when I got to the Blackhawks they moved me to forward. Something like that could definitely happen.”

Chi-City…

Back again for the second installment of the 2011-12 USHL team previews.

The first team featured in this series was Cedar Rapids and seeing as how we’re starting with the Eastern Conference and then going in alphabetical order, today’s preview will focus on the Chicago Steel.

Chicago Steel (2010-11: 9-43-8; finished last in the Eastern Conference)

Coach: Scott McConnell

Who’s gone: Connor Wilson (Yale), goaltender; Tucker Brockett (Princeton), forward; Jay Camper (New Hampshire), forward

Who’s back: Joel Benson, forward; Zach Saar, forward; Chris Joyaux (Ohio State), defenseman; Jaccob Slavin (Colorado College), defenseman.

Who’s new: Christian Heil (played last season with the Colorado Thunderbirds, committed to Colorado College), forward; Daniel Pieper (played last season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s); Mathias Dahlstrom (played last season at Kenai River (NAHL)), goaltender; Andrew Miller (played last season at Des Moines), forward

What’s going on: Talk about a team that couldn’t buy, cheat or steal good luck from anyone including the Lucky Charms leprechaun. The Steel had just about everything go wrong. There was the dismal 43 losses. There was the fact that coach Jon Waibel was fired during the season leaving McConnell, who had his interim tag removed in the summer, to run a ship that was sinking as if it was hitting an iceberg.

It got worse. The team traded its first-round Entry Draft pick from a year ago in Adam Krause (Minnesota-Duluth). Deals were also made to ship out forwards like Cole Gunner (Air Force) to help other teams make a late playoff push. Then throw in this summer and what happened there. Brian Christie (Merrimack) was the team’s pick in the 2011 Entry Draft and he decided that he’s going to spend another year in Topeka (NAHL). Finally, there’s Steven Fogarty (Notre Dame/New York Rangers) who became part of the Minnesota North movement to Penticton (BCHL) leaving the cupboard somewhat bare for the Steel. This might be piling on but it is true. The Steel even had trades with the Fargo Force that didn’t work out. The Steel gave up their Futures Draft pick for Troy Hesketh. Fargo got forward and potential stud Gabe Guertler at No. 2 and Hesketh was later traded and isn’t even in the league anymore. Then there was the Ian Young-Garrett Allen trade. Young, a defenseman, allowed the Force have more depth on the blue line and have someone else manage the power play. Allen was finding his groove until he suffered a hamstring injury leaving him sidelined with about a month left in the season.

Losing forwards like Brockett and Camper hurts because they were the team’s best scoring threats last season. It hurts even more because the Steel have seven returning players from last year’s squad. Eight with USHL experience if you include Miller. A few players that could help are Colorado Thunderbirds duo, Slavin and Heil. Slavin is a 6-2, 170-pound defenseman who played with the Thunderbirds before getting 17 games in with the Steel last year so he should have a better feel for the league. Heil is about the same frame and the stats (21 points in 24 games) show that he can get on the board. Of course that was in midget and the USHL is a bit different. Finally, the last guy to look out for is Dahlstrom. His numbers weren’t stellar for Kenai River last year but there is a feeling among some in the Steel organization that feel strong with him in the net.

One would have to think the Steel won’t have another season as dismal as last year. But then again, no one saw a 40-plus loss season coming last year, either. Things should be better for Steel but when it comes to something like a playoff chase, it appears that a tough Eastern Conference (Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Green Bay, Indiana, Muskegon to name a few) could make reaching that goal quite difficult.

 

Tomorrow’s Preview: Dubuque Fighting Saints