For Cedar Rapids RoughRider defenseman Bryce Aneloski, the third time may very well be the charm in regards to the NHL Entry Draft.
Aneloski was in contention for selection in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft after his rookie season in the USHL, but by the time the Detroit Red Wings had selected Jesper Samuelsson with the 211th and final pick, Aneloski's name had not appeared on the screen. His odds for selection in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft took a significant hit after he left Providence College after only one semester and didn't really stand out upon his return to Cedar Rapids, and he indeed went unselected in his second year of eligibility. In his third year of eligibility, though, Aneloski did no less than lead the USHL in defenseman scoring (15 goals and 39 assists in 60) and earn All-USHL First Team honors. In addition, his collegiate future is back on track again with a commitment to the up-and-coming University of Nebraska-Omaha, where Aneloski stands to be an impact defenseman for the Mavericks from Day One as they move from the CCHA to the WCHA. Add the fact that Aneloski is 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, to his standout 2009-10 and his now bright collegiate future, his odds at selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft are pretty strong.
McKeen's correspondent Kevin Wey was able to talk with Bryce Aneloski after a postseason contest during the 2010 Clark Cup Playoffs. Aneloski discussed his standout season, his leaving for Providence College after one USHL season, his subsequent development, his commitment to UNO, the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, his minor hockey, and the legends he looks up to and the NHLers he looks to today.
McKeen's: Not to take you off track of the playoffs too much, as you guys are focusing on that, but you led the USHL in defense scoring this year, which is a big jump in production for you. What was the difference or were the differences that helped you make that next leap in your game?
Aneloski: I think I got in really good shape in the off-season. I took it really seriously and just did everything and got my body in great shape, and I think it's helped me to be able to jump up in the play.
McKeen's: When you came to the USHL, by my notes, you were a fairly upright skater, but this has improved a lot over the course of time, both here and a little bit in Providence and then back here again. Is that something that you've actively been working on or is it something that's just kind of happened?
Aneloski: I went to a skating camp up in British Columbia the summer after I came here, and I think it really helped me just get lower. I think I just needed to grow into my body. I grew so much before I came here. I wasn't used to my body quite yet, and I think my legs got stronger and my core got stronger and I was just able to get down lower and be more powerful.
McKeen's: Yeah, it is difficult when you spring up to 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 quickly. Gotta fill out the legs a little bit. Central Scouting released their final rankings, and as is the case with almost every third-year eligible USHLer, you're not on the list. However, I don't think I've ever seen one on there. But, there are NHL teams talking to you. I read in one of Jeff Johnson's articles (Cedar Rapids Gazette) how New York (Islanders) talked to you, Ottawa has talked to you a bit. So, it's official: you're an NHL prospect and teams are looking at you. So, how does it feel to receive that recognition?
Aneloski: It feels good. It makes me feel like I've brought my game a long ways since I came into this league, and I think I have a lot to still work on, but I think my game is really rounding into shape and I like where I'm at right now.
McKeen's: Any other teams besides those mentioned in that article talk to you?
Aneloski: No, not really. I have a family advisor, Matt Keator, he's out East. I got him before I went to Providence. He just tells me to keep a level head and not really worry about the draft. It's kind of out of my control. If I get drafted, I get drafted. If I don't, I don't, I'm still a free agent. So, I'm just looking forward to next year at Nebraska-Omaha and working to develop my game under coach [Dean] Blais.
McKeen's: Going back two seasons, after your first season here, you did have that semester in Providence, but you ended up coming back here. Looking back on that, would you have done that differently and then, regardless, what are the lessons you take out of it?
Aneloski: I definitely wouldn't have rushed out of the USHL. I would have come back and played another season here. I don't think I was ready on the ice or mature enough off the ice. I mean, I played all the games when I was out there, but I don't think I was quite ready to go and make that step, it was far away from home. But, I think, coming back, it's really helped me mature as a person and as a player. So, I'm definitely glad I came back.
McKeen's: I think the team is happy you came back, too (said in understatement).
Aneloski: Yeah, probably (said humbly).
McKeen's: You've improved a lot over the last three years, and usually I ask most players in what areas they've improved the most and maybe I still could, but with you, since you've come along so much, what are the areas of your game that you still feel you need to improve on moving forward?
Aneloski: I think you can always work on improving your skating. I think you can never be a good enough skater. I mean, guys in the NHL, I hear, still work on their skating. I think I could be more of a tougher defenseman to play against, down low with my size. I think I could still use my size to my advantage a little bit more than I do. I think those are the two areas I'd really key on.
McKeen's: Over the past three years, in which areas do you feel you've come the furthest and how?
Aneloski: Well, I always thought I was a smart hockey player, but I still think that's growing. I think I'm seeing the ice better every day and I'm just becoming more patient and being able to jump and read the play, when to jump up and when not to, and just stuff like that. I think those are my strengths now.
McKeen's: I remember talking with Matt Leitner of Fargo earlier this year and he said, roughly, "It's my third year here. I pretty much know what I'm looking for. Things get a little slower each year."
McKeen's: What have been some of the things that have helped you the most over the last three years to make the improvements you've talked about, other than just experience?
Aneloski: I think just growing up as a person. I think coming to this league, I felt like I was a young guy, so I thought I was pretty cool. I think I became a little bit too cocky, a little too full of myself. So, I think I found I just grew into my body and understanding that you've got to take things day-by-day and that you can always get better. You're never where you want to be, you can always get better.
McKeen's: We've talked about improvements, but let's move to strengths now, which we've touched on a bit. What would you say are the strengths of your game and, for someone who's never seen you play, the style that you play?
Aneloski: Well, I think I'm a good puck-moving defenseman. I think I can make a good outlet pass. I think I can play good stick-on-stick in the d-zone and stuff like that. I'd say the biggest strength that's come this year has been my play in the offensive zone, just making a little bit more stickhandles, like the feel of the puck and stuff like that, and I think my shot, too, just by working at it this summer.
McKeen's: I would agree. On the point, you're pretty dangerous. You take a lot of shots, and you get a lot of them through.
Aneloski: Yeah, exactly. Coach always tells me the best players don't get their shots blocked. I think if you get your shot blocked, it just generates the other team's offense. So, you've really got to get shots through. It's not always about how hard they are, just the right place for a good tip and rebounds. That's how I've a gotten a lot of points this year, is from point shots.
McKeen's: I remember taking a note just like that tonight, that you threaded a wristshot through that almost got far post but he got his pad on it, but it created a good rebound opportunity. Earlier this season, you were selected to play in the USHL All-Star Game for Team East. When did you find out you'd been named to it, who told you, and what was your reaction?
Aneloski: I found out from my mom. We were on the bus in Tri-City, we'd just lost the game 1-0, kind of a heartbreaker, but I found out that me and Jeff Costello and Mac Bennett, and then eventually Troy Grosenick got selected. So, it was really good news. It wasn't really a goal of mine, but it just goes to show you that I was having a good start to the season and was really progressing well in the USHL.
McKeen's: What do you take out of the USHL All-Star experience?
Aneloski: Just being around other guys in the league. I mean, you don't really get to meet them that much during the season, because you're battling against them. But, there's a lot of great guys and a lot of good skill in this league. It just showed me how great this league really is.
McKeen's: By the time this is published, this will be determined, but I would say that you're in the running for Defenseman of the Year, you and Nick Jensen in my opinion, but we'll see how that works out. Either way, I think you'll be on the All-USHL First Team. What would it mean to you to be awarded such an honor?
Aneloski: I think it'd be a great honor. Again, talking about how great this league is, there's a lot of good defensemen, like Nick Jensen, and Dave Makowski on Green Bay. There's a lot of good defensemen out there. Again, it would show how far I've come over the last year and where my game's at right now.
McKeen's: As you've touched upon, next year you'll be at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. How many programs recruited you the first time around, when you went to Providence, and how many the second time, and what made you pick UNO?
Aneloski: There were probably a lot of schools. Like, I was talking to CC, Wisconsin, a lot of the big-time schools, and they all wanted me to play another year. I think I just (pauses)? Providence was just sweet-talking me too much. I think I started going for a lot of the used car salesman kind of stuff. I think I just rushed my decision. I kind of wanted to get it over with. It was a really tough process to really narrow it down. I think the second time around, I had a good start of the season and I got a lot of points early, and UNO's coach, coach Blais, came here to practice one day and offered me a scholarship and I didn't think twice about it. Right when he offered me, I accepted it. Just because, for me, I think I have to be with a good coaching staff. Like, here, I have a great coach in coach [Mark] Carlson. He's really developed me and pushed me hard, and I've heard great things about coach Blais and coach [Mike] Hastings at UNO.
McKeen's: Absolutely. Their records speak for themselves. I remember when I found out they were going to be the coaches at UNO, I was like, UNO's program, and with them going WCHA, is shooting up a lot.
Aneloski: Yeah, exactly. When I found out coach Blais was there and they were going WCHA, I definitely thought that, too. And, I'm from the Midwest, and there's not really that many schools in the Midwest. I think I wanted to stay closer to home this time around.
McKeen's: Before you were born, Chicago had?
Aneloski: Yeah, UIC (University of Illinois-Chicago), but then they went away. Now, you've just got Wisconsin and Notre Dame, and those are really the only big Midwest schools right now [obviously considering Minnesota and North Dakota their own area].
McKeen's: That's true. Notre Dame is kind of an extension of Chicago to some people. As we've touched upon, it's your draft year, third year of eligibility - third and final. If I were a director of amateur scouting for an NHL team, what are some reasons I should consider drafting Bryce Aneloski in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft?
Aneloski: I'd just have to say I think (pauses)? there's a lot of young prospects that are not really finished and polished. I wouldn't say I'm finished or polished, either, but I think I'm closer to where my game's going to be at, and just how far I've come. It shows I'm willing to work hard and never satisfied. I just feel like some of those strengths, and I've proven this year that I can play at a high level. I have high regards for this league. So, stuff like that.
McKeen's: You are less of a projection now.
Aneloski: Yeah, exactly.
McKeen's: Closer to a finished product. It's not going to be like, "What's this guy going to develop into?" You are 20 and your game's at a high level now. You talked about the advisor earlier. At what point did agents, or advisors, start approaching you and when did you pick one?
Aneloski: I picked an advisor before I even picked a school. It was the first Fall Classic and after our first game. Matt Keator came up to my parents and started talking to them and started talking about me. Then, the next day they went out to lunch. It took me awhile, partially to see other advisors, but I just felt more comfortable with him. I wanted to be around a guy that was personal and understood me and what kind of player I was.
McKeen's: That personal connection sometimes makes the difference. And that was the first Fall Classic, in 2007?
Aneloski: Yeah, my first year in the league.
McKeen's: You've mentioned this a little bit, but what are some of the things that he's been saying this year to you?
Aneloski: He just tells me to stay level-headed, never to get too high or too low. Especially with me, because I was getting a lot of points early, he told me not to worry about points. As I've learned over this year, I'll have a great game and I might not get any points and then I'll have an off night and I might get a couple. So, I never would really worry about just getting points. I feel like you get narrow-minded when you do stuff like that. He just told me to never worry about the draft. If teams talk to me, they talk to me. Just take it one day at a time.
McKeen's: Right. If you take care of each shift of each game, it'll eventually take care of itself and away you go. Going back to the beginning of your hockey career, when did you first start playing and how did you get that start?
Aneloski: I first started skating a little after I was one year old. My mom was a figure skating instructor, and my dad played hockey. So, that's how I got involved in hockey.
McKeen's: That is young. With your dad playing hockey, what level did he play at?
Aneloski: He played up until juniors, then he kept playing adult league. We had a team called the Pekin Stars, which played against other teams. They were older guys, though. So, he kept playing for a while and then eventually just decided to hang it up.
McKeen's: Where did he play juniors at?
Aneloski: Pekin and Peoria.
McKeen's: Okay. With you, I know some of these, but for what organizations did you skate for at the different levels, such as mites, squirts, pee wee, etc.?
Aneloski: I played for the Pekin Stars and the Peoria Junior Rivermen growing up, and then I made the jump to play up in Chicago. My parents started driving me the first year I was eligible, squirt major year, because I was allowed to play against older kids when I was younger and they didn't really like that too much. I always got to play up two ages. So, I decided to go play Triple-A in Chicago. I played for Team Illinois and CYA (Chicago Young Americans), and then I started to move away from home, because we were sick of the driving. It was just too much. It was two and half hours each way and we did it three times a week. So, I moved away and played for Honeybaked one year and then I came back and played for TI for midget majors, and that's where coach Carlson scouted me.
McKeen's: I wasn't aware of you playing with the Young Americans. At what time did you move to CYA and how long did you play for them?
Aneloski: I played there for four or five years. Jeff Costello and Jayson Megna were my teammates there. We had a lot of good teams. We always competed at nationals and stuff like that.
McKeen's: I remember talking to Jeff, he mentioned that he and Ross Henry?
Aneloski: Yeah, Ross Henry was there.
McKeen's: ? would drive down from Wisconsin. You made the move to Honeybaked, moving away from home, but why Honeybaked?
Aneloski: They had asked me, coach [Robert] Gohde was the coach then, and they just asked me, because they needed guys, it was getting tough, and I had an aunt that lived there. So, it was a lot easier.
McKeen's: I guess that makes that easier.
McKeen's: Final question. Who were some of your favorite players growing up and who are some players today who you feel you're similar to or that you'd like to equate to?
Aneloski: I think growing up, I watched Ray Bourque a lot. He was a great player. My dad was a huge Bruins fan, so I have a lot videos on Bobby Orr and stuff. I came to respect him and just how he changed the game, in my opinion, from defensive defensemen to being an offensive guy. Then, NHL nowadays? Honestly, I don't know. I'm not really quite Mike Green - he's a little too offensive. But, I'd say, like a guy like Joe Corvo or even John Carlson, who played in this league. Just a bigger guy that can still get up and skate and make plays offensively. Mike Green's a stretch, though.
McKeen's: (Chuckles). Mike Green's a stretch for almost everybody.
Aneloski: There's not a lot of guys who play like Mike Green.
McKeen's: Going back in the day, there were guys like Paul Coffey, who isn't quite the same, or Phil Housley some really offensive guys. Number four? (Aneloski's number) Is that Bobby Orr, then?
Aneloski: Yeah, that's what I like to wear. For one year I had to switch, I wore 77. I was going out for TI and played with them, and then I switched to 4 when I came here.
McKeen's: Seventy-seven has some high expectations to it.
Aneloski: Yeah, it's a tough number to wear. Four's a little less-known.
McKeen's: Four is Orr, but it's also been a lot of other guys.