Former Forest Lake Rangers hockey star C.J. Franklin was drafted Saturday by the Winnipeg Jets in the fifth round of the 2014 National Hockey League Entry Draft.
Franklin, a 2012 graduate of Forest Lake Area High School who most recently played for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League, was chosen 129th overall in the draft and was the seventh Minnesotan selected.
But playing professional hockey will have to wait at least another year for the 20-year-old. This fall, Franklin plans to play hockey for Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he has accepted a full-ride Division I athletic scholarship. The Mavericks ranked 12th in the nation at the close of its 2013-14 season.
During his high school hockey career at Forest Lake, Franklin was a three-time letter winner and two-time Suburban East All-Conference selection, and he served as a team captain during his junior and senior seasons. He currently ranks third on the Rangers all-time scoring list with 111 career points. He also lettered in football and baseball.
“He is a pure athlete and a consummate team player,” said Franklin’s high school hockey coach, Aaron Forsythe. “C.J. has the frame, work ethic and athleticism to be a career NHL’er down the road. I’m thrilled for him and his family.”
Forsythe should know. He, like Franklin, was a Forest Lake graduate who went on to play hockey at Mankato and also in the USHL. He later decided to become a teacher and spent seven years as the Rangers head coach before being hired this spring as the school’s new activities director.
“From what I’ve read and knowing how these NHL teams generally operate, my guess is that Winnipeg would like C.J. to spend a year or two at Mankato to develop his skills as a player,” Forsythe said. “That’s pretty typical in these situations.”
A player drafted into the NHL retains his amateur status, allowing him to play collegiate hockey until he has signed a contract with an NHL franchise, Forsythe explained. But the team that initially drafted him will retain his professional rights until the end of his junior season in college, at which point he can sign with that NHL team or remain in college and become a free agent after his senior season.
Franklin started working out with his new Mankato teammates last week, but he will also be attending the Winnipeg Jets prospect camp on July 6.
“It was a blast,” Franklin said of his reaction when he learned the news that he was drafted. “I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing, and hopefully I’ll get to play (in the NHL).”
The 5-11, 190-pound left-wing was one of four members of his Sioux Falls team to be claimed in the NHL draft last weekend, and a league-record 35 USHL players were taken during the two-day, seven-round event.
“I think it’s pretty unusual,” Franklin said of four teammates being drafted in the same year and noting the recent increase in USHL players being drafted. “It just proves how good of a league it is, and it’s just getting better.”
During his two years with the Stampede, Franklin posted 111 points (54 goals, 57 assists) and served as team captain this past season. He was among the league’s top 20 scorers both seasons.
He also represented Team USA in the 2013 World Junior A Challenge, helping the United States win a gold medal.
“I’m proud of C.J., the way he has carried himself and what he’s been able to accomplish so far,” Forsythe said.