By: Patrick Donnelly
Day Two of the National Hockey League Entry Draft saw three Boston University freshmen drafted to professional clubs. Goaltender Drew Commesso went 46th overall in the second round to the Chicago Blackhawks, and forward Luke Tuch immediately followed, going to the Montreal Canadiens with the 47th pick. The St. Louis Blues selected forward Dylan Peterson 86th overall in the third round.
“It was nice to see those guys [get drafted] with their season getting pulled last year,” Terrier head coach Albie O’Connell said. “They’re almost over-analyzed by teams playing for the U.S. program, so they’ve handled themselves really well. They’re all pretty mature for being 18 years old.
“I’m proud of them with what they did and how they handled everything — their interviews and just kind of the whole day in the process.”
With the draft being pushed back and months of uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic, the three newcomers are happy to be able to fully focus on the season ahead.
“Usually the draft is obviously in June, but we’re really excited,” Tuch said. “It’s a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
‘It’s been a huge build up,” Peterson said. “We look forward to this day for a long time; it’s kind of nice and relieving. Now we can focus on things ahead like the BU season, which hopefully is coming up soon. It’s a huge relief for sure.”
“Being at the U.S. program, it’s one of the most highly-scouted teams with so many prospects, to have that long draft year and then have to wait the whole summer that’s a definitely a huge relief,” Commesso said. “I’m really happy with how it went. The NHL did a great job putting it all together online.”
During his age-17 season with the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) in 2018-19, Tuch posted 15 goals and 24 assists for 39 points in 78 total games between the USDP and the USHL. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound left-winger took a step forward in his age-18 season last year with 23-21-44 in 66 total contests. Had the season not been cut off due to the pandemic, Tuch was on pace to post around 27 goals, 25 assists, and 52 points over a 78-game schedule.
“Tuch is, physically, pretty advanced for his age,” O’Connell said. “He skates well. He’s tough and he’s physical. He arrives at puck battles and to the net with anger. He’s got a terrific shot, too.
“He’s got the ability to make an impact on the scoresheet and physicality-wise. He’s got a chance to bring a heavy game to our team.”
“I’m a big power forward with a heavy shot and a grittiness to my game,” Tuch said. “I get in players’ faces, and I think I can use my speed as an effective part of my game.”
During his 17-year-old season with the USNTDP, Peterson registered 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points in 84 total games between the USHL and the USDP. However, 2019-20 saw his production dip to 12-24-36 numbers in 64 total games, but that is with the season being cut short in mind. The 6-foot-4, 192-pound forward was on track to pot about 16 goals and 32 assists 47 points, give or take, over an 84-game pace.
“Peterson is a little bit taller, not as heavy, but he’s very athletic,” O’Connell went on. “He’s got very fast feet, very explosive. He’s got great hands and a great shot. He’s kind of got a lot of tools, but it’s a matter of making sure he maintains his confidence and that speed. When he gets going with his speed and his reach, he is going to be really difficult for guys to defend.”
“I’m a power forward,” Peterson said. “I’ve got a good skating ability. I’m always looking for the open pass as more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer. I like to use my teammates and my speed to my advantage.”
During the 2018-19 campaign with the U-17 team, Commesso’s first with the USNTDP, Commesso did not boast the most glamorous numbers: an .888 save percentage and a 3.36 goals-against average (GAA) in 61 games between the USHL and USDP. However, last season, he saw a remarkable improvement more characteristic of his two strong seasons in prep school at St. Sebastian’s. In 38 appearances before the pandemic ended the season, the young netminder notched extremely strong stats with a .918 save percentage to go along with a 2.03 GAA.
“Commesso is very poised for an 18-year-old,” O’Connell said. “I think he’s well beyond his years in his approach and his demeanor. He’s definitely got a ton of talent. He’s got good hands and good feet. He anticipates and reads to play really well. He makes a lot of hard saves look easy.”
“I like to stay as calm and simplify movements as much as possible,” Commesso noted. “I don’t really find I’m sprawling around too many times or making those crazy highlight-reel saves. I’d rather just beat the puck on my feet and make a chest save. I think that helps my teammates a lot, knowing they can trust me.”
Commesso also joins sophomore defenseman Alex Vlasic and junior forward Jake Wise as a Blackhwaks prospects, marking the third consecutive year that Chicago has drawn from the Terriers’ talent pool.
BU is no stranger to having NHL prospects within the ranks, which is especially true this season as 12 Terriers are now in professional systems. Last season, six incoming freshmen were drafted. This year’s draftees were able to lean on their teammates for some support and guidance through the experience.
“Everyone’s been really supportive throughout the past couple weeks,” Tuch said. “I think they knew this moment is coming.”
“A lot of those guys have already been through this experience, so they know how stressful it can be,” Peterson added. “For them just to be kind of behind us and supporting us, was really great to see.”
“It was nice that a lot of the guys wished us good luck before,” Commesso said. “They were in our shoes last year, so they gave us tips. It only happens once and it may be stressful, but it’s very exciting. It’s a great time for you and your families.”
So far, coming over from the USNTDP to Comm. Ave has been a smooth transition for the newcomers. Commesso and Peterson credit the demanding atmosphere out in Plymouth, Mich., with helping them make the jump easily.
“The days out there are crazy, and our days right now are pretty busy, so the time management piece is helping a lot,” Commesso noted. “I think the biggest difference is it’s a lot more loose a college and you’re kind of on your own a lot more than at the U.S. program, where every second of the day is scheduled out. I’m really enjoying my time at BU so far.”
“The U.S. program prepared us for the college life and college hockey,” Peterson added. “It’s really good to have gone through there and be ready for this transition.”
For Tuch, the help of teammates and upperclassmen, who have been through the program, has made the change in scenery as easy as possible.
“They’ve been really nice so far,” Tuch said. “I think our team is really close this year. I can’t wait for games to start.”
Being a local kid from Norwell, Mass., Commesso has always had his sights on BU.
“I’ve always gone to BU games as a kid, worn their hats and worn their jerseys to games,” the young netminder said. “When I was offered [a scholarship], it was such a surreal feeling.”
The three draftees will join Vlasic as well as teammates Dom Fensore, Robert Mastrosimone and Case McCarthy as part of the BU contingency heading to USA Hockey’s National Junior Team Evaluation Camp.
“I’m really excited,” Tuch said. “Any chance where you can slip that [USA] sweater over your head is unbelievable. Hopefully all of us can make an impact on the team in the future.”
“We’ve kind of bled those colors over the past few years and it’s such an honor wearing that jersey,” Peterson added. “I know we’re all excited and hoping for the best, but whatever happens, it’s still a great experience.”
“The last time we threw on that USA jersey, we didn’t know it was gonna be our last time with how the season ended so abruptly,” Commesso said. “I think all of us are just very happy to throw it on again because it’s so special to wear those colors.”
With this year’s unique circumstances pushing the camp from the summer to now, O’Connell knows how disruptive it may be, but recognizes how important it is to his players to be able to represent their country.
“This year’s camp has a huge effect [on practices],” O’Connell said. “You’re talking about kids leaving campus during the semester and still going to school online.
“I think the players take a lot of pride and it’s obviously nice to have our players represent the country. I don’t know if we’re excited about losing seven guys for probably 16 days, but at the same time, we’re hoping that all those guys have the opportunity to make it. Each guy’s got a legitimate chance.”
In the meantime, the rest of the Terriers will continue to practice and prepare as everyone awaits an official start date for the 2020-21 season from Hockey East.