The Toronto Maple Leafs defensive prospect Max Everson was drafted in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, but his chances to slip on a blue jersey just got a little bit slimmer.
The same, unfortunately, might be said of Patrick McNally – a fourth round pick from 2010 for the Vancouver Canucks.
Everson and McNally were the two NHL prospects who skated only seven games for Harvard University during the 2012-2013 season, following their involvement in the 2012 Harvard Cheating Scandal — a controversy over whether or not students in the 2012 Government 1310 class (Introduction to Congress) had collaborated on a take-home final exam. Nearly half of the 279-person class (roughly two percent of the entire freshman student body at Harvard in spring of 2012) had investigations brought against them, with an estimated seventy of the 125 students being forced to withdraw.
The two were part of three total NHL prospects cited as having involvement in the scandal, including Minnesota Wild netminding prospect Steven Michalek — who skated in only a single pre-season scrimmage prior to his own withdrawal.
Due to NCAA regulations, though, all three lost a year of eligibility over the controversy, despite the lengths all three went to in order to hopefully avoid losing a season. Everson and McNally voluntarily sat out the first seven games of the 2013-2014 season in hopes of making a case to rule the withdrawal a ‘red-shirt year’, and Michalek, as mentioned above, opted out of the 2012-2013 campaign entirely. The trio appealed to have the university grant them an extra season to play — but the appeal has been denied by the NCAA.
Even with voluntary withdrawal, the NCAA has strict guidelines regarding what seasons may be salvaged versus lost – and although there’s still controversy surrounding the scandal itself, there won’t be a fourth season for the three in their fifth year of college.
The Canucks, the Wild, and the Leafs now have until August fifteenth to ink the skaters to entry level deals – if the clubs fail to do so, the three boys will become unrestricted free agents.
Impact on Max Everson (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Everson was held back a year following his withdrawal during the 2012-2013 campaign from the university, so he’s got a year of school left before he graduates. For a top-ranked prospect, this is less of a concern – for Everson, who would have likely benefited from an extra year of NCAA play (especially following a year as co-captain for the Crimson this season) but still may not be a bona fide NHLer long-term, that’s a tough decision to make.
Skaters can obviously still finish their degrees while playing in the NHL. Just this spring, Calgary Flames rookie and Calder finalist Johnny Gaudreau flew back to Boston, Massachusetts to continue taking classes at Boston College following Calgary’s elimination from the post-season. Of course, there’s no guarantee that Harvard would be quite so lenient with Everson, especially if he’s playing in either Toronto or Orlando in the AHL or ECHL (and therefore unable to take his finals in person, considering the reason he was held back a year).
Everson is a stay at home defenseman who displays good conditioning and a well-developed read of the game, but he’s used the last three seasons (albeit not continuously) to hone his game as a puck-mover. Although he only saw six points in thirty-seven games in what would be his final year of NCAA play, the 6 foot 1 blue liner showed an affinity for being a key component in pushing the play out and into the offensive zone. He doesn’t get the opportunity often to score, but he has the ability to develop into a bottom pairing defenseman with penalty killing talent and good awareness when taking defensive zone starts.
Still, he’s now left with the option to either skate at the minor pro level next year or stay at Harvard and get back into the game a year later – and that’s not just a decision for him to make, as Toronto will be left with a tough choice whether or not to sign him.
Impact on Patrick McNally (Vancouver Canucks)
Patrick McNally offers more offensive upside than Everson does, and was one of the NCAA’s top defensive prospects prior to a mid-season injury in what would become his final campaign.
For the Canucks, adding McNally seems like something that can’t possibly hurt the club – after all, the Pacific Division franchise is weak on their back end (both at the NHL level and in their prospect pool). There have been reservations regarding exactly how successful McNally can be – Canucks Army’s own Josh Weissbock profiled the blue liner earlier this spring, suggesting that his high shooting percentages could be susceptible to collapse at the NHL level – but for a club that’s going to be strapped for cash and potentially struggling on the blue line in the very-near future, it seems like a bad idea to let the New York native walk.
Of course, Weissbock brought up another interesting point when looking at McNally’s future – if the left-shot defenseman is willing to wait until August 15th, he’ll hit unrestricted free agency.
Unlike both Everson and Michalek, McNally didn’t play tier I junior in his season out of school, so there were concerns about whether or not he’d struggle upon returning. Those were somewhat validated by a seven point, twenty-one game season in 2013-2014, but the hype surrounding a point-per-game senior campaign for the co-captain (who split both the blue line and the ‘C’ with Everson this year) could see teams take interest in McNally now that he’s officially finished with NCAA play. Weissbock compares it to the Justin Schultz drama, and it’s not a bad comparison – with a number of teams (yes, Colorado, we’re looking at you in particular) hungry for left shot talent on the blue line, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for the defenseman to wait until fall before making his decision.
Of course, depending on whether the Leafs pick up Everson, a deal that sends Dion Phaneuf or Jake Gardiner out of Toronto could see the Leafs needing left shot talent on the blue line, as well. Mike Babcock isn’t exactly quiet in his preference for handedness to line up with defensive pairing positions, so things could get even more dramatic for the former Harvard skaters if Toronto is given the option to pick between the two left shots come August. One is projected to be more NHL-ready than the other – and it’s not the one Toronto already holds the rights to.