BY: COLLIN SCHUCK
Tonight marks the start of the 2015 United States Hockey League Draft as the Tier 1 league begins its reload process for the 2015-16 season. While the IceRays are not involved in the USHL Draft, the team will look to the draft to chart not only if players from the 2014-15 season are selected by one of the 16 participating teams but also to note if any of the future players tendered by the IceRays are selected in one of the next two days. The USHL Draft differs slightly from the NAHL Draft, so here's what to look for over the next two days as it pertains to the IceRays.
The USHL Draft is completed in two phases. Phase I, formerly known as the "USHL Futures Draft," is an eight-round process that presents players in the 1999 birth year that are traditionally not ready to play at the USHL level though show the potential to play in the league in the coming years. A number of those players will see time at the Tier 1 level, however most will either stay at their lower levels or develop in lower leagues in preparation for future play. It is highly unlikely that an IceRays tender for the 2015-16 season were to be selected in this portion of the draft due to the player ages and skill sets.
Phase II, formerly known as the "USHL Entry Draft," operates in the same way that the NAHL Draft does. Teams may select players from the 1995 to 1999 birth year range to participate on said squad for the upcoming season. Now, it's worth noting that even though a USHL team drafts a player, said skater might not be selected to the team's final roster after training camps are completed or choose to join the team. If this is the case, the player is allowed to look for options elsewhere if they were not already claimed through NAHL rights or by a tender contract–the player would return to his NAHL team, barring that the team accepts his return. If a player is selected and makes his USHL squad, then the player will most likely go with that team. In the chance that the player makes the USHL team but does not last the entire season, the NAHL team that holds his rights in this league either through previous contract or the NAHL Draft will be able to claim that player.
In all, 23 IceRays players both past and present have seen time in the USHL over the last five seasons with eight being drafted in the USHL Draft. In last year's draft, defenseman Kyle Froese (70th overall) was selected by the Omaha Lancers before signing his commitment to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and goaltender Forbes Ploszaj (224th overall) was selected by the Bloomington Thunder but did not make the roster following training camp.
Forward Wes Michaud skated in two games with the Sioux Falls Stampede in December last season, and defenseman Trevor Heuser (273rd overall) was drafted by the Des Moines Buccaneers in the 2012 USHL Draft. Former IceRays to play at the USHL level last season include: Jake Durflinger (Sioux City Stampede), Ronnie Hein (Waterloo Blackhawks), Grant Hutton (Des Moines Buccaneers), Chad Pietroniro (Sioux City Musketeers & Madison Capitols), and Jalen Schulz (Tri-City Storm).
Phase I of the USHL Draft begins tonight at 6:00 p.m. CT while Phase II begins Tuesday at 8:00 a.m. CT. The entire draft will be televised on www.USHL.com, and the events can be followed on the league's social media outlets.
Collin Schuck is the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Corpus Christi IceRays. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.