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June 29. 2013 8:27PM

Ian Clark On Hockey: Local skaters eye NHL draft

THE NHL Entry Draft takes place today at 3 p.m. in New Jersey and a few players with New Hampshire ties should hear their names called.

University of New Hampshire sophomore defenseman Brett Pesce, Manchester's Zach Sanford and Proctor Academy goalie Merrick Madsen are all listed in the Central Scouting Bureau final rankings, with Pesce projected as high as a second round pick in some circles.

The 18-year-old Sanford is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound winger who played at Pinkerton Academy in Derry two years ago before making the move to the Middlesex Islanders of the EJHL, who play at Skate3 in Tyngsboro, Mass.

Sanford is ranked No. 60 for North American skaters by the CSB. His stock began to rise after he was invited to the combine earlier this month and performed well there.

"It went really well. I did well in the interviews and the fitness test went really well," said Sanford, who grew up in Manchester and lived in Auburn for three years before returning to the Queen City. "It all went better than I expected."

Sanford said that he had private workouts with Boston, Montreal and St. Louis.

Sanford got off to a slow start with Middlesex, failing to score in his first seven games. But he came on strong to finish with 12 goals and 24 assists in 37 games.

"I got off to a slow start and then around Thanksgiving or Christmas I started to play better and became one of the leaders on the team," Sanford said. "It was a great experience. It was a big step up from high school."

Sanford has committed to Boston College. The scouting reports on him say he has good hands, long reach, two-way skills, maturity and shows a good ability to shield the puck with his body.

Sanford said he models his game after former UNH star and current Toronto Maple Leaf James van Riemsdyk.

"I'm the same sort of player, a big kid who skates well," Sanford said. "I try to play like that and brought that into my game."

Pesce is ranked No. 40 for North American skaters after completing a solid true freshman season at UNH where he scored a goal and five assists with a plus-minus rating of plus-7 in 38 games.

A 6-foot-3, 175-pound blueliner from Tarrytown, N.Y., Pesce is the highest rated college player in the CSB rankings.

"He's one of the best defenders I've seen at his draft age in a long, long time," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "He does a great job keeping the puck to the outside and when you think you're by him, he uses his stick and body positioning as well as anybody."

The book on Pesce, who is just 18, touts him as a good two-way player with great poise who will need to pack on some more weight to improve the physical part of his game.

Madsen, 17, is a big goaltender at 6-foot-4 and 170 pounds from California who has committed to Harvard University for the 2014-15 season. He will play with Des Moines in the USHL this fall.

He is ranked the 26th overall goaltending prospect in North America after having a strong year at Proctor Academy in Andover.

The word on Madsen is that he moves well post-to-post for a big goaltender and is constantly at work on improving his game.

The NHL Entry Draft can be seen on NBCSports from 3 to 8 p.m. and then on NHL Network after that.

"I'm trying not to think too much about it," Sanford said of the anticipation leading up to the draft. "I'm excited and a little nervous, too. It hasn't all hit me yet."

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Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email is iclark@unionleader.com.


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