Eyssimont, Clurman add to growing list of NHL prospects
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Confidence as much as anything played a role in two Coloradoans hearing their names called on Day 2 of June’s NHL Draft in Buffalo, N.Y.
Forward and Littleton native Mikey Eyssimont rediscovered his during the second half of his freshman season at St. Cloud State University and went on a second-half scoring binge for the highly-ranked Huskies. The Los Angeles Kings took note and added him in the fifth round (142nd overall) on June 25.
Defenseman Nate Clurman, a Boulder native, further grew his during his first three seasons at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind. The Colorado Avalanche took note and picked him in the sixth round (161st overall).
Per research on hockeydb.com, Clurman is only the second player from the state the Avs have ever drafted. Left wing J.D. Corbin of Littleton was taken in the eighth round (249th overall) in 2004 after his freshman season at the University of Denver.
Eyssimont, a 1996 birth year, was picked in his third – and final – year of eligibility, while Clurman (a ‘98) went in his first.
“It’s funny, but the Kings met with me my first few draft years, so I had talked to them quite a bit,” Eyssimont said. “This year, they picked me after not talking to me. I’m glad it happened.”
One reason it happened was Eyssimont’s second-half emergence on a senior-laden St. Cloud team that won the NCHC postseason championship. The 6-foot-2, 192-pounder scored 29 points in 23 games after the holiday break, after getting just four in the first half, for NCAA Division I’s second-highest scoring team.
“In the first half he was snake bit, (but) he had chances,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. “He never panicked.
“The biggest factor (in his turnaround) was his confidence. Once a goal scorer sees ‘I can do it,’ then you get what we saw in the second half. Young guys who have his skill level often see struggles. They all have to go through trials and frustrating moments to get to this point.
Five of Eyssimont’s 14 goals came in the Huskies’ final three games – the NCHC semifinal and final and an NCAA tournament game.
“The adjustment was tough in the first half,” Eyssimont said. “The second half, I made more of the opportunities I was given. I stayed positive and didn’t get frustrated.”
Keeping things on the lighter side has never been an issue with Eyssimont, a big-time roller hockey player who began playing on ice with the Foothills Flyers before spending one season with the Littleton Hawks and four with the Colorado Thunderbirds.
“Mikey has a fun personality and he’s a serious student,” St. Cloud assistant coach Mike Gibbons said. “He’s a bit of a Colorado free spirit, a bit of a character. He’s popular around campus and his teammates like him.”
Eyssimont, however, discovered humor has its limits during the four years (13U-16U) he played for the T-Birds.
“Angelo Ricci runs a tight ship, but he doesn’t ruin the fun,” Eyssimont said. “As much as I learned about hockey, I learned just as much about how to act like a pro.
“I could be a trouble maker at times. Not anything horrible, but I like to joke around. He sat me down and talked to me about how that wouldn’t fly at higher levels. It humbled me, but it helped me mature.”
In addition to Ricci, Eyssimont counts his first ice coach, Dave Fromm and Jesse Davis as other strong influences, as well as his parents, George and Nancy.
“Jesse was one of the only United States Hockey League coaches who showed any interest in me,” Eyssimont said of the then-Fargo Force assistant coach.
“When I went to Culver, I was nervous at first,” he said. “There were a lot of new things and I had to learn more about time management. A military school gives you tactics that transfer well to hockey.”
Clurman moved into more of a leadership role as a junior, when he had 16 points and was plus-22 while helping Culver to the USA Hockey 18U national championship game.
Leadership is nothing new for Clurman, said Matt Huckins, who coached him for two seasons on the RoughRiders’ 14U AAA team.
“He was a captain for me at 14, and his teammates could not have respected him more,” Huckins said. “He was always positive. He knew when to pick a guy up, and he knew when to pull someone aside. That’s not easy for anyone to do, but imagine doing that at 14.
“It wasn’t easy for him when he played up his first year for me. He took on a large role playing with ‘97s, and he made plays for us.”
While Eyssimont’s calling card is his scoring touch, the 6-2, 198-pound Clurman boasts elite skating.
“I started young when my dad would take me skating outdoors in Vail, and I took power skating lessons,” Clurman said. “I think that has to be your biggest base skill. Some of it’s natural, but I still work with a skating coach. I learned new things this summer, and even at the (Avalanche’s) development camp, we worked on power skating every morning.”
Huckins has spent two decades coaching hockey, and he believes Clurman will play the game a long time.
“He’s going to be a great hockey player, a classic late bloomer,” Huckins said. “His character will move him up before his skill because he gets it. Nate put himself in this situation.
“I’ve never seen a kid so low-key about getting drafted by an NHL team. What is he doing after he gets picked? He’s out doing edge work and working on his skating. He reminds me of a 32-year-old NHL veteran.”
Getting picked by the team near where he grew up was icing on the cake.
“I wasn’t sure which team, but this seems like the best situation,” said Clurman, who called Huckins, Derek Robinson, Chris Lawson and Neil Runbeck “huge influences” in addition to his parents, Andrew and Claire. “I’m super psyched. All year, Colorado was one of the teams I talked to.
“In the end, I’m glad it worked out.”
A handful of other players with ties to Colorado also were selected.
DU incoming freshman Henrik Borgstrom was picked in the first round (23rd overall) by the Florida. Two Pioneers sophomores – forward Dylan Gambrell and defenseman Blake Hillman also were taken. Gambrell, who was a linemate of Eyssimont’s with the Colorado Thunderbirds in 2011-12, was taken in the second round (60th overall) by San Jose. Hillman went to Chicago in the sixth round (173rd overall).
Eyssimont photo (top)/Tony Panzica/ActionPhotos.net; Clurman photo (right)/Jan Garrison/Culver Academy
– Chris Bayee