BUFFALO — Cam Dineen, selected in the third round by the Arizona Coyotes, was the first of three North Bay Battalion players taken Saturday in the National Hockey League Draft.
Fellow defenceman Mark Shoemaker, who went to the San Jose Sharks in the sixth round, and centre Brett McKenzie, picked in the seventh round by the Vancouver Canucks, made up the trio of Troops from the Ontario Hockey League club.
“It’s a pretty crazy feeling,” said Dineen, an 18-year-old Toms River, N.J., resident who was taken 68th overall.
“It’s definitely nerve-wracking. You come into it not really knowing what to expect. You see all the rankings out there, but nothing really means much. You’ve just got to take it in and hope that the team you like likes you and picks you, and I think that happened here, so I’m really happy.”
Dineen, five-feet-11 and 185 pounds, was an 11th-round choice by the Battalion in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection from the New Jersey Rockets under-19 team. He scored 13 goals and earned 46 assists for 59 points in 68 games as an OHL rookie last season, moving from 117th on the NHL central scouting department’s midseason ranking of North American-based skaters to 39th on the final list.
Dineen said that the Coyotes, who traded for the NHL rights to Battalion defenceman Kyle Wood during the season, probably saw him often as they scouted Wood.
“I met with them at the combine, and they seemed to really like me and they seemed interested in me throughout the whole year, so I was really looking forward to it. I’m just really happy to be part of their organization now.”
Dineen said his style of play should fit well with Arizona.
“I think the Coyotes recently have a lot of good young players in their organization playing with a lot of skill and speed, and that’s the kind of game I want to be involved with and help those speedy, quick forwards that can score goals, pass the puck up to them and hope to join the offence with them, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Dineen credited the Battalion coaching staff with improving his defensive game.
“Especially this year under (head coach) Stan Butler, he taught me to play defence first, but I’ve always been an offence-first defenceman. I think my defensive game is getting better, but I like to move the puck up to the forwards and then join the play and create as much offence as I can. I like to be a playmaker and use my vision to make plays.”
Added Dineen: “Stan’s really pushed me to be the best I can. He really believed in me as soon as I came in, and that really pushed me and made me confident in what I could do.”
Dineen said he looks forward to further improvement.
“I need to work hard this summer and in the upcoming year. I think I just need to get stronger, work on leg strength, quickness, explosiveness.”
Shoemaker, a six-foot-two, 208-pound Mississauga resident, was an 11th-rounder in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection from the Mississauga Reps minor midgets. The 18-year-old, taken 180th overall by San Jose, has five goals and 13 assists for 18 points in 106 games over two seasons with the Troops.
“I’m very, very excited to be drafted and, while I was hopeful to be drafted, I wasn’t expecting to be drafted,” Shoemaker said by telephone.
“I just came inside after working on tearing down my family’s front steps with my dad and was sitting at the kitchen table with my parents about to go in swimming when I got the call from (scout) Bryan Marchment saying that they just drafted me.”
Shoemaker said he’s ready to get to work.
“The next step is to attend the Sharks’ development camp starting July 7 and go from there.”
McKenzie, who turned 19 on March 12, went undrafted last year before Vancouver made him the 194th overall pick. In three seasons with North Bay, he has 50 goals and 58 assists for 108 points in 197 games. The Vars, Ont., resident, six-feet-one and 190 pounds, was the Battalion’s first-round choice in 2013 from the Oakville Rangers minor midgets, becoming the franchise’s first OHL Priority Selection pick after the announcement of the relocation to North Bay from Brampton.
“It’s an honour to have been picked by a great organization and to the beautiful city of Vancouver,” McKenzie said by phone. “I was surprised when I was chosen, wasn’t sure if it was real.”
He said he was relaxing when he learned he’d been selected.
“I was sitting on the dock with a friend and my family and we were just getting updates as the draft went on, and my name popped up!”
Starting with the 1999 NHL Draft, the Battalion has had 43 players selected, including defenceman Paul Flache twice, in 2000 and 2002. The three taken this year represent the most since 2008, when centre Cody Hodgson, right winger Kyle DeCoste and goaltender Patrick Killeen were drafted. The Troops have had at least one player selected every year except 2007 and 2011.
The two-day draft at the First Niagara Center featured seven rounds that saw the 30 NHL clubs select 211 players, including 48 from the OHL. The Toronto Maple Leafs took centre Auston Matthews, a product of Scottsdale, Ariz., first overall after he played last season with Zurich in Switzerland’s top professional league.
Players are first-time eligible for the NHL Draft in the year they turn 18, unless they’re born Sept. 16 or later, in which case they must wait until the following year.