Des Moines forward Connor Brickley is still out in Iowa finishing up his senior year of high school and getting ready for the NHL Draft Combine later this month.
I caught up with the gold medal-winning member of Team USA's under-18 squad after he returned from Belarus and can't help but think that he's going to go higher in the 2010 draft than many think because his character is so sterling and he articulates himself well enough with his words, but then goes out and backs it up with gritty, physical, in-your-face play even though he isn't the biggest guy out there.
I also talked to Max Giese, who is the midwest regional scout for Red Line Report about Brickley, and he's a fan as well, telling me that he wanted to have Brickley higher on their list than he is, but understands it's a skill thing. Basically, Brickley is an outstanding skater, but his hands aren't going to get him a lot of goals at the next level. But, his intensity, hockey sense and character are all up there. Oh, I think I said character already, didn't I?
Brickley is moving up my regional list for New England-born players, which will come out next month in the New England Hockey Journal's annual draft preview issue (I'll also have a Bruins draft preview article in that edition as well).
I plan to have more on 'little Brick' as I like to call him in deference to his second cousin (Author's note-- It was pointed out to me that I've had it wrong all this time and that Connor's dad, Scott Brickley is Andy's cousin, making Connor Brick's second cousin. A million apologies for messing that one up.) Andy, who is one of the best hockey analysts and color men out there right now. But he was put on Team USA for a reason: his mission wasn't to score goals, but to play hard, separate the opposition from the puck, create turnovers and bring character to the equation. Uh-oh. I used that pesky 'c' word again, didn't I?
By all accounts he did just that.
My guess is that he'll go in the third round in the June draft. Any lower and he's a potential steal, simply because I'm a big believer in kids who have a burning fire and passion for hockey inside like little Brick does are almost always more than the sum of their parts. Brickley falls squarely into that demographic. His desire and commitment to the game and a willingness to do whatever he has to do in order to succeed will probably see him evolve into a classic overachiever.
Case in point: Brickley left what could have been a cushy situation for him at home with Belmont Hill Academy where he would have dominated offensively to challenge himself by playing in the rougher, tougher USHL against guys a lot older, faster and stronger than he. And you know what? He came away with flying colors, scoring 20+ goals and nearly averaging a point-per-game in what is traditionally more of a defensive league. Look for the University of Vermont recruit to make a difference for coach Kevin Sneddon and company in the coming years.
Giese said the following of Brickley: "He really jumps out at you right away because he loves to hit people and blow them up with his physical style. He's one of the few guys I saw in the USHL this year who I project to be a pretty good pro player because he can skate so well, plays with a lot of intensity and can bring some offense, even though it's not what he does best."
As for Brickley, he won a gold medal playing against the best competition in the world for his age group, and he'll be wearing an NHL jersey come June.
I owe you, my faithful readership, a "2 minutes in the box" feature on him. I'm sure you'll be just as impressed with the way he comes off as I am. He's a student of the game who understands what he has to do in order to be successful, and it looks like he's well on his way to getting there.