Sometimes, teams find out about players in the strangest ways.
Consider Merrick Madsen, the goaltender from Proctor Academy in New Hampshire whom the Flyers drafted in the sixth round last month.
He wasn’t even on their radar until Flyers coach Peter Laviolette decided to look into Proctor Academy as a possible school for his son to attend.
“Laviolette started talking to my coach Mike Walsh and was telling him that his family was interested in coming to Proctor. They got to talking, and somehow my name came up. Next thing I knew, [Flyers scout] John Reilly was at one of my games.”
And Reilly liked what he saw. Madsen is a big goaltender at 6-foot-4. He has quick feet for his size and does a nice job of covering the bottom half of the net.
Reilly was the only Flyers scout to see Madsen play, and pushed for him during scouting meetings. The Flyers knew that he was more of a long-term project, but decided to take a chance on him with the 162nd pick overall.
Madsen, 17, took part in Development Camp with the team this week and got to spend a considerable amount of time working with both Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese and goaltending scout Neil Little.
“He reminds me a lot of [Anthony Stolarz – the Flyers’ 2nd round pick in 2012],” Reese said. “He’s big, he’s very athletic and he competes. Those are the three things you should like in a goalie. He moves very well for his size. I’m very impressed.”
It may have only been a first impression for Reese, but ultimately that’s the one that matters most for Madsen right now.
He started playing hockey at Age 4 when he lived in Las Vegas. He started as a forward, but when his team eventually lost its goalie because he moved up in age. Madsen’s father suggested his son give goalie a shot.
“I did all right at first, but it was only mites, so you never really know how good you actually are,” Madsen said. “I just kept working hard and trying to get better, and although I never played AAA hockey - I went straight to prep school from AA – here I am now.”
And Madsen can only be in the here and now – because he has a good amount of potential that could take him far, but he needs to take that process one step at a time.
It started with getting drafted. Then came the Flyers Development Camp, which concluded Thursday. Next, Madsen is headed to Des Moines, Iowa to play in the USHL for a year before heading off for Harvard University, where it’s a safe bet he isn’t going just to play hockey.
“Education was a big part of my college decision,” Madsen said. “When schools started taking interest in me, Coach Walsh started advertising to some programs that I had really good grades.
“A few Ivy League schools contacted me – Princeton and Cornell were also interested – and although I liked both of those schools, a Harvard education is hard to beat.”
It’s difficult to argue with that, but it’s not like Harvard’s hockey program is chopped liver.
“It’s a great program,” Madsen said. “And when you look at the next two classes coming in, it’s going to be phenomenal.”
It will also leave Madsen with some time to develop, which is just fine by the Flyers.
“I look at this position all the time and sometimes you just never know,” Reese said. “Look at [Detroit Red Wings goalie] Jimmy Howard. He played in college for two years and then the AHL for four years before coming to the NHL and now he’s one of the best goalie’s in our sport.”
And Madsen hopes to be that one day, but for now, he’ll take simply impressing an NHL goalie coach the first time they worked together.
“I’m actually a little bit surprised,” Madsen said. “I thought, ‘I’m coming in as the youngest kid in this camp, I’m going to struggle.’ But I came into it a little bit hot and I’ve been doing pretty well. I’m really happy with my performance and it’s been great to work with [Reese and Little] on the little nuances of my game.”
And while he does still have a lot to work on and although he may be a good five years from the Flyers conversation, this is about excited as the Flyers have been about a sixth round pick in quite some time.
“I’m very impressed,” Reese reiterated. “I think… no, I don’t think, I know he will have a chance [to make it]. He needs to get stronger and fine tune his game, no differently then all the other young guys here, but he’ll get a chance to play and we’re really excited about his future.”
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