JANESVILLE, WI – Janesville Jets goaltender and Arizona State commit Cole Brady was selected 127th overall by the New Jersey Devils in the 5th Round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft Saturday afternoon. Brady becomes the third player in Jets history to be picked in the NHL Draft.
“It’s amazing,” said Brady in a phone interview. “You just look back on all the things you’ve done over your career, people who helped you get to where you are. You work your whole life for something like this. To see my name and get this experience…I’m just so grateful for the things people in my life have done for me to get here.”
The Vancouver Canucks hosted this year’s draft, which saw two players selected straight from NAHL rosters, in addition to three others with NAHL experience. Among active NAHL clubs, the Jets are now tied with the Lone Star Brahmas for most NHL Draft selections straight from the roster. The Brahmas’ former iteration, the Texas Tornado (1999-2013), are the only other NAHL club with four roster players selected in NHL Drafts over the last 20 years.
Brady, one of the Devils’ newest 11 prospects, kept tabs from home.
“The more you think about [getting drafted], the crazier you go,” Brady said. “So I just surrounded myself with friends and family and tried to soak up every moment.”
“I’m just so thankful”
Of all 31 NHL clubs, the Devils enjoyed perhaps the biggest weekend in Vancouver.
The organization selected American forward Jack Hughes first overall on Friday night, and added All-Star defenseman P. K. Subban in a blockbuster trade Saturday with the Nashville Predators.
The team began play as the Kansas City Scouts in 1974. They relocated to Denver in 1976, and played six seasons as the Colorado Rockies. Major success awaited them in New Jersey, where they moved in 1982, finally becoming the Devils. They’ve won nine division championships, five conference championships, and their names are on the Stanley Cup three times (1994-95, 1999-00, 2002-03). Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur made his career in New Jersey, where he built NHL all-time records for wins and shutouts. Brodeur retired in 2016, and returned to the organization last year to serve as executive vice president of business development.
Suffice it to say it’s a pretty great parent club for a young goaltender.
“They’re a class act organization with tons of history,” said Brady. “They’re building a great foundation with Hughes, [2017 1st overall pick Nico] Hischier, and [2017-18 MVP Taylor] Hall. They’re really gonna be a competitor this year, and could be a Stanley Cup Champion pretty soon.”
Brady said the Devils were one of many NHL teams to make contact with him.
“We talked to them a couple of times,” he said. “They made it clear they were interested in me, and said they might use a later round pick on me. I’m just so thankful and excited for the opportunity.”
Asked if he already knew the question he would first ask Martin Brodeur, Brady didn’t hesitate.
“” What’s the secret?”” he said. “I mean, a legend, a Hall of Famer…if I could ever pick his brain, I would absolutely love that.”
“We knew he had potential through the roof”
Brady, 18, was a reliable workhorse for the Jets in a season of transition. The NAHL rookie helped provide stability for the Jets through scoring droughts and leadership changes both behind the bench and in the locker room. Only six other netminders played more minutes than Brady (2,534) last year, and only five made more saves (1,347). His 43 games played represent the largest single-season workload from a Jets goalie since Tony Kujava appeared in 45 contests in 2011-12.
“When the conversation is about roster construction, every hockey coach will talk about building from the net out,” said Jets head coach Corey Leivermann. “Janesville is no different. Here, we had some changes to battle through last season, and Cole was the team’s backbone who helped us through those times. He kept us in every game and even won us a few we probably shouldn’t have.”
The Jets selected Brady 20th overall in the 2018 NAHL Draft. The Pickering, Ontario, native had recently finished his first year of junior hockey with the Markham Royals of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL). Brady was just 16 years old when he began the 2017-18 season, and edged out Nate McDonald, a year and a half older than Brady, for the Royals’ starting job. He played 26 games as a Royal, posting a .904 save percentage.
“His size and his skill had him on our early draft boards last year,” said Leivermann. “Obviously Arizona State had him pretty well pegged, too, even all the way in Canada. He came to our main camp and had a spectacular showing. We knew early on Brady was the guy we wanted for a very good 1-2 combo with Garrett Nieto, but then Garrett had the injury and Cole had no problem assuming the number one role for the rest of the season. With first round picks in our drafts, you gotta hit home runs, and that’s what we got in Cole Brady.”
Brady’s performance at last July’s main camp confirmed what Leivermann and goalie coach Larry Clemens already knew: the Jets had a major NHL prospect on their hands.
“We knew he had potential through the roof,” said Clemens. “We were hoping he’d be able to have a nice, gradual development here learning behind a veteran in Garrett Nieto.”
That was the Jets’ goal when they knew Nieto would return for a second season in Janesville. On-ice success would come from both the veteran and the rookie, who were each Division I commits and starting-caliber goaltenders. Nieto and Brady could be the 1a/1b, and the mentor/mentee. In an October game in Fairbanks, though, Nieto suffered a season-ending hip injury. Brady finished that night with seven saves on seven shots, preserving the Jets’ 4-2 win. It was just his fourth NAHL appearance. Suddenly, the expectations grew for the then 17-year old.
“Cole handled that pressure extremely well,” Clemens said. “He had huge challenges and stepped up. We saw huge steps forward in his mental game, his preparation and his approach to hockey.”
As the Jets’ starter, Brady became Janesville’s best chance to win every night he filled the crease. He recorded five shutouts in 43 games, and on four occasions had to make more than 40 saves. The Jets won three of those four, despite being outshot by an average of 45-31. In those contests, Brady posted a combined .957 save percentage.
“I’m a goalie. I got a job to do. Stop pucks,” he said. “That doesn’t change if you’re the starter or not, and I didn’t think I was gonna be a backup. You have to be ready to play every game. When I got the opportunity, I just rode with it.”
Brady’s poise under pressure is his greatest asset, according to Clemens.
“Obviously it’s hard to compare someone to Carey Price, an NHL All-Star and one of the best goalies in the world,” Clemens said. “But honestly that’s who Cole plays like. He’s calm, collected, never looks over-energized. He’s defensive and he’s smart, a lot like Jordan Binnington, too. Those guys don’t show too much emotion. Cole has a mature mind, and as he develops, that’ll get even better. He’s gonna use that to bring a lot of wins to any team he plays for.”
“At this point, they’re calling us”
Two seasons ago, another Greater Toronto Area goaltender, Mississauga’s Jack LaFontaine, became the first Jets player to be selected in the NHL Draft when the Carolina Hurricanes picked him in the third round, 75th overall. Last June, the Jets’ first NAHL MVP became the organization’s second NHL Draft pick when the Ottawa Senators selected Jakov Novak 188th overall. Now with Brady’s selection, the Jets have seen three NHL Draft picks straight from their roster, a mark that ties them with the Lone Star Brahmas at the top of the NAHL.
As the goalie coach, Clemens can boast two of those three picks. Over 10 years, the “goalie guru” in Janesville has helped grow the club from just another NAHL expansion team to an elite development program with renown across the continent.
“At this point, the advisors, the college coaches, even the NHL scouts, they’re all calling us and giving us heads up on kids,” Clemens said. “They like what’s going on here. Kids are brought to our attention now from higher ranks, which of course helps us do our job of acquisition, development, and advancement. This is where we wanted to get to. The first couple of years, the players and the coaches had to work really hard to build this program. We had some good talent come along in goal, and now we’ve got the right people in place for a good program. Add to that that we have good connections in place at higher levels of hockey, who know that we’re the development ground they trust…it all make our job look easy.”
Corey Leivermann agrees, and has his eyes on the future.
“When I came to Janesville, I knew the reputation here,” said Leivermann. “Moving kids on to Division I was the culture, and I wanted to help continue it. Then Jakov last year was drafted by Ottawa, and it kind of seemed like an added bonus to our reputation. Now you’ve got Cole Brady going and making it back-to-back years, and you look ahead at the tendered goalie coming in. Grant Riley has a high ceiling and could be the next Cole Brady. The reputation around hockey that Larry Clemens has, the individual successes of guys like Cole Brady and Jakov Novak and Jack LaFontaine…it all makes an impact and helps us get to where we want to be as a talent development program.”
“Janesville will always have a solid place in my heart”
As with every player who actualizes his dream of playing in the NHL, Brady’s road to the pros will be long and winding.
His USHL rights are owned by the Fargo Force, who in the last decade have helped develop fellow NHL hopefuls Zane McIntyre (Boston Bruins) and Cam Johnson (New Jersey Devils). Brady will report to Fargo on September 3rd, and will play the 2019-20 season there before moving on to Arizona State. The Sun Devils have also celebrated NHL success from between their pipes. 2015 Ottawa Senators draft pick Joey Daccord played three seasons in Tempe and has recently begun his professional career.
“I can’t wait for that challenge,” said Brady. “The speed of play, the speed at which things happen, it all takes a step forward. From the USHL to the NCAA, players are stronger, faster, more accurate. The competition gets better as I move along, and that’ll help me get faster and stronger, too.”
There’s no doubt about it: Brady’s future is bright. If (or when) the evening of his first NHL start arrives, he will have worn jerseys from the OJHL Markham Royals, the NAHL Janesville Jets, the USHL Fargo Force, the NCAA Arizona State Sun Devils, and almost certainly a minor pro jersey or two.
But his time as a Jet will stand out, he said.
“Janesville is so sentimental to me,” Brady said. “I mean, I was drafted here. So many people helped me here, from my coaches, my teammates, to the people who run the organization. I’ve got nothing but great things to say. Janesville will always have a solid place in my heart for allowing me to be successful here.”