By: Matt Stathopoulos
With the NHL draft quickly approaching, a couple of Phantoms have been staying busy this offseason in hopes of hearing their names called at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on June 27th or the 28th.
Maxim Letunov and JJ Piccinich of the Youngstown Phantoms, this past season, were both named to the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings for North American skaters back in April. Letunov was ranked at 87th overall, while Piccinich was penciled in at 135th overall on the same list.
“I was home for a little bit during my spring break from school but even while I was there, I was lifting and skating,” Piccinich said. “Since being back here I’ve continued doing that. It’s nice to see the guys again and skate with them three or four times a week.”
Heading into the off-season, Letunov is committed to off-ice work as part of his preparation in the weeks leading up to the draft.
“With the season being over, it’s time for off-ice training and I’ve been doing that a lot lately,” said Letunov. “I’ve been trying to gain some weight and more muscle strength. A couple of teammates and I have been skating four times a week as well. We usually skate first and then workout after.”
Both players finished in the top three for most points on the team. Piccinich was second behind Kyle Connor with 58 points and led the league in power play goals with 13.
“With a good year, you hope that it can propel you into a better result at the draft,” Piccinich said. “But in the end I’m not too focused on that. Whatever happens, happens.”
Letunov finished the season with 43 points, which was good enough to place him right behind Piccinich at number three on the team. Fourteen of those points came in the final 18 games of his rookie season in the USHL.
“Obviously it’s the USHL, the best development league in the country,” said Letunov. “I feel much better about myself now than at the beginning of this past season. I’m looking forward to next season as well, and the success I’ve had so far makes me more confident for the draft.”
Earlier this month, Piccinich officially signed his letter of intent to play at Boston University in the Hockey East conference of the NCAA, next season.
“I’m extremely excited to play there!” Piccinich said. “It’s sad that I won’t be back here but again, BU is a great program with a tradition of success. I think they’ll really help me develop into the player that I want to be. They give every opportunity to play in the NHL, so hopefully I can go along with that.”
Letunov is also committed to BU, but still has a remaining year of high school and is expected to be back with the Phantoms in the fall.
“Well hopefully I’ll get picked in the draft,” Letunov said with a few laughs. “But this season will be very important, maybe more than this past year. If I do get drafted, the team will look to see where I’m at and if I’ll be ready in a couple of years, or a year. I’m trying not to think about the pressure though and just focus on playing my game. That’s how it will be next season too.”
The first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft is scheduled for June 27th, while the remaining rounds will be the following day on the 28th.