Anaheim calling to the hockey world...
You may have missed this acquisition, but the Ducks signed Bowling Green RW Dan Sexton to a two-year entry-level contract at $500K (NHL salary) per season with a $150K signing bonus. His fee at the AHL level will be $50K and $55K for the two years, respectively.* I've been following this kid since November, and I must say that I'm EXTREMELY surprised he's ended up with the Ducks. Let's take a look at Dan Sexton.
Every blogger and their mother (sorry, Adam Brady) will give you the stat line - 38 games with 17G 22A, and there's no doubt that Sexton had a breakout season this year-- he's a gifted attacker, but that's not the line that worries me. It's this one - 5'9" 166lbs. The Ducks have been down this road before with Ryan Shannon. Out of Boston College, Shannon was a smooth passer with 20/20 hockey vision. He was brought along slowly, allowed to play out his time in Hockey East then dominate the AHL. He was even welcomed onto the Stanley Cup team. But his size sealed his fate. Frequently separated from the puck and taken out of plays, Shannon could not use his diminutive height to draw sympathy from the refs, as he was playing for the most physical team in hockey. He couldn't find his game while being bounced around the ice, and he was bounced around the league until Bryan Murray could maneuver a second chance for him in Ottawa. McNab has yet to convince me that Sexton's future in Anaheim is much brighter.
In 2007, the trio of Dan Sexton, Patrick Tiesling and David Soloway led the Sioux Falls Stampede to the USHL's Tier I Championship, the Clark Cup. Tiesling and Soloway committed to Bowling Green, while Sexton continued to weigh his options, which included Denver, St. Cloud State and Alaska. He eventually committed to an East Coast school, but Tiesling convinced him to de-commit and join his old teammates with the Falcons.
That 07-08 team finished 18-21, but the rookie lines were impressive. And with players like 5'7" Jacob Cepis, Bowling Green seemed to be the right fit for Sexton, as the team was committed to growing small forwards with skill, speed and courage to match up against the CCHA's physically dominant teams. Sexton showed great two-way sense in his freshman season as a mainstay on both the power play and penalty kill, potting 3 shorthanded goals.
In their sophomore season, Sexton and Soloway were joined by senior Brandon Svendson to form the Falcons' "Axe Line." Soloway and Svendson already played on the same PK unit, but Coach Paluch was reluctant to put Sexton and Svendson on the same even strength line as neither had ever played Left Wing. However, in practice, Svendson found he enjoyed the left side, and the trio went on to post 93 points. The line was known for its passing, creativity and the talent level requisite of three players who were dangerous on the penalty kill. Sexton improved his speed and offensive vision during the course of the season, finishing as the seventh best forward in the conference, just one spot out of the First and Second All-CCHA teams.
The Axe Line made noise amongst the NHL scouts, though they were unable to save Bowling Green's win/loss record. The Falcons would play another losing season, intensifying the rumors of the impending demise of the BG hockey program and making it likely that Sexton would be poached at the end of the year.
In January, David McNab made the trip to see Bowling Green play Ohio State, and was immediately impressed by Sexton, who had 2G and 2A in the series. The Ducks' Senior VP maintained regular phone contact with the prospect, attended another Falcons series and followed four televised games before making the decision to sign him. McNab noted Sexton's tremendous offensive talent, but was quick to point out how hard he battled, something vital to succeeding as a small forward at the professional level. He placed the right wing's NHL transition as still a couple of years away, and the kid agrees that he needs to improve his size and strength, starting this summer.
It's not that I'm fond of the Ducks' unofficial rookie height/weight restriction. I don't think every kid should have to be a Ryan Getzlaf Sasquatchewan of a human being to survive in Anaheim, but Sexton has an uphill climb ahead of him. Even if he comes in at the right size and speed, we will still expect him to protect himself and stay cool headed if he gets targeted by another team, which troubled McDonald (and now Ebbett). Of course, unlike Shannon, Sexton has undeniable defensive value, and may be capable of replicating Todd Marchant's recent game-- sound defensive small forward hockey with the ability to cash-in on transition and turnovers on the forecheck. But whatever avenue he finds into Anaheim, it will be tough to stay there. I sincerely hope, both that he proves me wrong and that his talent is not wasted by trying to run with the Pampalona bulls that are the Ducks.
*UPDATED citation: figures taken from an article in Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune by Andrew Weber, dated April 7th, 2009.