Sunday, June 29, 2014

Incoming Maverick freshman taken in NHL draft

More often than not, summer doesn't provide a lot of news in the college hockey world. Most early departures for the NHL leave immediately following the conclusion of their season, and many incoming freshman have been drafted out of high school, prior to playing junior hockey.

Last summer, the Minnesota State University Mavericks made big news when they landed a late commitment from a high profile recruit in Zach Stepan after the Hastings, Minn. native withdrew his commitment to Ohio State. This summer created another buzz in Mankato surrounding the Maverick hockey team. 

C.J. Franklin, an incoming freshman this fall at MSU, was selected in the fifth round of the NHL draft when the Winnipeg Jets selected him with the 129th pick. A Forest Lake, Minn. native, Franklin graduated from Forest Lake High School in 2012 before spending two seasons in the Tier 1 United States Hockey League with the Sioux Falls Stampede. Usually, NHL teams select players out of high school, or 18 year old players who have junior hockey experience, so Franklin's case was a bit different.

"It's definitely a surreal feeling being drafted." said Franklin. "Getting passed over just made me work harder over the past few years and Its definitely nice getting recognized by the Jets and I couldn't be happier with where I'm at."

After leading the Stampede in goals as a rookie in 2012-2013 with 32 tallies on the season, Franklin went on to lead the team in points last season with 51. Known as an "old school" style player who is a workhorse with grit, it seems Franklin found a scoring touch during his time in Sioux Falls. This is good news for MSU, who has to replace captain Johnny McInnis' 21 goals from last season. Franklin's tenure in Sioux Falls clearly caught the attention of NHL scouts prior to the 2014 draft in June.

Though it will be a few years before he takes his shot at the NHL, Franklin now has the assurance that it will be an option when his college playing days are over. He'll join his new teammates on a roster that includes fellow NHL draftees Teddy Blueger (Pittsburgh), Max Gaede (San Jose), Zach Stepan (Nashville), and Stephon Williams (New York Islanders).

For the time being, Franklin joins a Maverick team that has exploded onto the national scene the past two seasons. After Mike Hastings was hired as head coach in the summer of 2012, MSU has seen a significant turnaround. The past two seasons have seen WCHA Final Five Appearances, including the Final Five Championship in 2014, and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances as well. With success like that and the newly constructed WCHA conference that took effect last season, it's hard for recruits not to consider MSU as a hockey program where they could win a National Championship. Players like Franklin now see MSU as a top option, not an afterthought. 

"I would have to say the success that MSU has had in recent years and I really got along well with the coaches." said Franklin. "Also, playing in my home state helped make the choice a little bit easier for me."

Even though Franklin played the past two seasons in Sioux Falls, away from home, there is still a transition period for a freshman athlete, even if he's only 100 miles from home. 

"It's definitely been a change coming from juniors, being on a schedule, and getting up early everyday took a while to get used to." he said. "But I'm loving it so far and classes are going well. I can't wait to get the season started."

In the two seasons Mike Hastings has been behind the Maverick bench, the lineup has seemingly gotten deeper. Franklin adds to that depth and can be expected to be a player who comes in and contributes right away with two years of junior hockey under his belt. 

"I want to be an impact player and make a difference to help the team win games." Franklin said. "I hope that we can get off to a great start and keep it rolling throughout the season. If we play our game I feel we could really go far this season."

With a solid roster and a WCHA Final Five Championship to defend this season, the Mavericks should be a scary team for opponents. While plenty of freshman bring some attention to themselves, there will be plenty of eyes on C.J. Franklin in the world of college hockey this winter. 

C.J. Franklin
Forest Lake, Minn.
Forest Lake H.S./Sioux Falls (USHL)

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