At Home In The Eye Of A Hurricane

NTDP Defenseman Sees Selection By Carolina As A Perfect Fit For His Offensive Skills

In the world of professional sports, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

 

After watching the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues duke it out in the Stanley Cup Finals, NHL teams headed into the 2019 NHL Draft looking for similar pieces to create their own version of championship caliber teams.

 

Some teams opted for bruising forwards and towering defensemen like those featured throughout the Blues lineup. Others were in the market for small, skilled defensemen similar to Torey Krug, the Bruins blueliner who shined brightest during the spotlight of the postseason.

 

The Carolina Hurricanes found a player who fits the Krug mold in the presence of 

Domenick Fensore, a swift puck-mover who is small in stature but played a big game this year with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. The Hurricanes selected the Thornwood, N.Y., native with the 90thoverall pick in the third round of this year’s draft.

 

The resemblance with Boston Bruins blueliner and Fensore is uncanny in both size and skill set. 

 

“He’s not the biggest but he thinks the game so well,” the 5-foot-8 Fensore said of the former Michigan State star. “He’s quick, makes quick plays and quick outlets. He’s a guy that I look after.”

 

Being open to taking a chance on smaller players with skill is increasingly prominent, even if size likely played a role in slipping Cole Caufield, who had 72 goals for the NTDP this season, to 15th and Montreal, or Fensore to the third round.

 

"This kid is a breakout machine. He's able to go back, get the puck and carry it into the offensive zone. He can make plays from a breakout perspective. He can run a power play," said Carolina Director of Player Personnel Darren Yorke. 

Torey Krug's 18 points in this spring's Stanley Cup Playoffs were the second-most among defenseman. Krug is a player that Fensore admires and enjoys watching.Torey Krug's 18 points in this spring's Stanley Cup Playoffs were the second-most among defenseman. Krug is a player that Fensore admires and enjoys watching.

Ten years ago, the average NHL defenseman was 74.1 inches tall, or 6-foot-2. Today, that defenseman is 72.9 inches.

"The only reason he's where we drafted him is maybe people were a little bit worried about his size, but that's not how you should be describing these players,” Yorke said. “You should be talking about what they bring from a skill standpoint, and this kid has a ton of it.”

Fensore’s skills were on display last season with the U.S. Under-18 Team, where he had six goals and 36 assists in 55 games. It was a historic draft season for the Plymouth, Mich., based player factory with eight first round picks, the most selections from one team in the opening round of a draft in North American sports history. 17 players from the 2001 birth year were picked, a program record.

It’s a place the funnels in the best youth hockey players in the United States, shatters their egos, builds them up as better players and people and descends them into the college hockey circuit and eventually, the NHL. It’s unique and it's working.

“You have the 20 best players in the United States all coming in, so you have to fight for minutes,” Fensore said. “Everyone on our team really embraced that and wanted to be there. Facing each other in practice, I think that’s why we’re so successful. Everyone is just trying to beat out each other and that’s our competitive nature. I think we all had a similar goal and that’s why we had so many guys drafted in the first round, and beyond that too.”

 

Each of the NTDP’s draft picks, or the USHL’s 52 active players picked – the most of any junior league – or the 71 players selected with NCAA ties – the most since 2007 – have a defiant story, of hard work, dedication, and a bucket load of support. That’s why before any player finally adorns the jersey of his newly-minted franchise, he’s met with a sea of hugs, kisses and congratulations.

“I had my parents, my brother, my aunt, uncle and I had a couple of friends come out to Vancouver, too,” Fensore said. “It was a stressful day but it worked out well getting drafted to Carolina, I couldn’t be happier."

 

Most of his friends and family made the long trek from New York,  in from the Thornwood, which boasted the most picks of any state with 13 players. Before Fensore has his eyes set on Carolina, it’s off to Boston University for his freshman year. The Terriers also had quite the impressive draft showing, with nine players heading to Commonwealth Avenue selected.

 

Fensore is looking to hone his game at the college level. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stay three or four years, like comparable characters Scott Perunovich, heading back for his junior year at Duluth, or Matt Grzelcyk, who spent four seasons at Boston University, is now on the Bruins and is another player Fensore appreciates.

 

The fact that the NTDP’s schedule mixes in some college teams in their schedule should bode well for Fensore’s upcoming transition.

 

“Playing college this year, you get a glimpse of what’s going to happen next year,” Fensore said. “Yeah, the guys are bigger and stronger, but that’s what the pro level is. Getting a head start on that now, you’ll get used to it by playing them a lot. I feel like college is the way to go.”

Fensore, shown here boxing out an opposing forward, will have to utilize his skating to still be a competent defender against the bigger and taller competition he'll face while at Boston University.Fensore, shown here boxing out an opposing forward, will have to utilize his skating to still be a competent defender against the bigger and taller competition he'll face while at Boston University.

While Fensore will be immersed in studies and setting up slapshots in a few months’ time, he also has an ultimate goal he’s looking forward to, wearing the Hurricanes sweater that he’s sporting at the ongoing development camp, but for real. The 153-pound defenseman is looking to utilize his game-breaking ability to make that dream a reality.

 

“For me being a smaller guy, I think skating is one of my biggest aspects,” Fensore said. “How I think the game and can use my skill to take over a game. I think my skating is going to be the biggest factor for me to make it to the NHL, I think that’s how you take over a game.

 

“It’s real nice down here, so I can’t wait for the future.”

 

For Carolina, that future looks a whole lot brighter after their appearance in the Eastern Conference Final and what scouts perceive as quite the draft haul through 12 picks in total. Rod Brind’Amour has established a culture of compete, compete, compete, and if you do that, you can bask in the fun of it all. The takeaway from a meeting with the Hurricanes bench boss stood out to Fensore.

“Coach Rod Brind’Amour had a meeting with us and he was telling us how his team works and how they love to compete, and it’s one of their biggest tools of why they were so successful this year,” Fensore said. “He’s trying to embark that in our brain right now.

 

“I’m a real competitor so I feel like this is the perfect spot for me, I can’t wait to see what happens in the future.”

 

A perfect fit? Sounds like what every team seeks in a draft pick, even if only time will tell if it comes out to be true.

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