Abney, Froese realize their NHL dreams

A year ago Cameron Abney and Byron Froese weren’t even specks on the hockey prospect landscape, just two players hoping they had the goods to make a WHL roster.

But now both are NHL properties who are looking at the possibility of future professional careers.

The Everett Silvertip forwards both had their names called Saturday on the second day of the NHL draft in Montreal. Abney was selected in the third round by the Edmonton Oilers while Froese was taken in the fourth round by the Chicago Blackhawks.

“It’s crazy,” said Abney, reached while vacationing in Hawaii. “I wasn’t even drafted into the WHL, so I was just happy to make the WHL. The NHL is just a crazy place to me. It’s still sinking in.”

“I’m excited,” said Froese, who attended the draft in Montreal. “I’m really proud to be a Chicago Blackhawk, but there’s a lot of hard work ahead.”

Both Abney and Froese are examples of the hockey rags-to-riches story as neither has the profile of your typical top prospect. Neither was selected in the bantam draft. Neither had any buzz surrounding him when the season began. Neither was even guaranteed to make Everett’s roster last season. Yet both will be headed to NHL camps in the fall.

“Both were listed guys who worked hard and are now reaping the rewards of today,” said Everett general manager Doug Soetaert, who also attended the draft. “It shows that just because you get passed over in the bantam draft doesn’t mean you have no shot at the NHL.”

Though being drafted, Abney and Froese should return to the Tips next season. Their NHL teams own their rights for two years before having to sign them, and players from the WHL are not eligible to play professionally in the minors until their 20-year-old seasons.

Everett’s other draft hopefuls, forwards Kellan Tochkin, Tyler Maxwell and Shane Harper, and goaltender Thomas Heemskerk, were not selected. However, Soetaert said Tochkin has already received multiple invitations to NHL training camps, and the others may also receive invites.

The big surprise was Abney. The 18-year-old right wing from Aldergrove, B.C., was thought to be a fringe candidate for the draft, a player who would be picked late, if at all. His numbers were underwhelming this season as a rookie — one goal, three assists and 103 penalty minutes in 48 games — and his name was nowhere to be found on any of the scout rankings.

However, Abney improved as the season progressed, becoming a physical force toward the end of the season and earning the team’s most-improved award. Enforcers also have a history of being picked higher than expected, and the 6-foot-4 Abney was one of the best available. Edmonton, a team that’s publicly stated its desire to get bigger and tougher, decided to take the plunge with the 82nd-overall pick, surprising even Abney, who was woken up at 5 a.m. by a phone call from the Oilers.

“I talked to an Edmonton scout not too long ago, so I thought they were interested,” Abney said. “But it blows my mind to get drafted that high. I did not think I’d be taken that high. I didn’t think I’d even be taken at all.”

In contrast, Froese was selected right in his expected range. The 18-year-old center from Winkler, Manitoba, was a player whose draft stock rose gradually throughout the past six months. First he drew attention for his breakout rookie season, in which he tallied 19 goals and 38 assists in 72 games. Then he showed he could hold his own with the world’s best at the U-18 World Championships, where playing for Canada he had four goals and three assists in six games.

Ranked as the 85th-best North American skater available by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau, Froese was expected to go anywhere from the second to fourth rounds. Chicago, one of the teams Froese had been in contact with, used the 119th-overall pick to take Froese.

“It was exciting,” Froese said about his experience at the draft. “Watching teams I was talking to not take me was a little nerve wracking, but it was exciting to hear my name called. I went down from the stand to their table and meet all their people.

“They’ve got a great team,” Froese added. “They’ve got great young players like (Patrick) Kane and (Jonathan) Toews who score points, but still do a lot of work for the team. I can’t wait to see what it’s like in Chicago.”

The selections of Abney and Froese gave Everett picks in each of the past four NHL drafts. However, this was the first time in those four years the Tips didn’t have a first rounder. Everett has now had 10 players drafted by the NHL.

Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog

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