The Montreal Canadiens added a staggering 11 players to their prospect pool at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft this past weekend. While not the one who comes with the highest profile, Jack Gorniak is among the most intriguing to have heard his name called from the Canadiens’ table.
The speedy forward, chosen 123rd overall, played his senior year of high school for the West Salem Panthers in 2017-18, while also appearing for Team Wisconsin in the Upper Midwest HS Elite Hockey League.
Gorniak had great success with the Panthers this past season, as the public high school team won their sectional playoffs to move on to the State Tournament before being eliminated in the quarter-finals.
For his efforts, Gorniak was named Player of the Year, and has committed to joining the University of Wisconsin next season. There he will be joined by fellow NHL draftees K’Andre Miller, Ty Emberson, and Sampo Ranta under the tutelage of Badgers head coach Tony Granato.
We reached out to Eric Borre, head coach of the West Salem Panthers, to learn more about the Canadiens’ fourth-round selection.
EOTP: Can you describe the type of player Wisconsin, and one day potentially the Canadiens, is getting in Jack Gorniak?
Eric Borre: Jack is a very energetic player. He competes for every puck and usually comes out of the corner with the puck. He sees the ice well and is a great setup guy due to his hard work. I imagine that he will be utilized heavily on the penalty kill due to his energy and speed. We loved having him in that situation because he was so skilled at the PK.
We’ve seen Jack listed as a left-winger, although we’ve read that he can also play down the middle. Where is he most comfortable on the ice?
We played him more often as a centre than a wing due to his skills in the faceoff circle. We also thought centre would be the best spot to utilize his speed in the open ice versus along the wall. We did play him at wing as a freshman. He is versatile enough to play both positions at the high-school level. I will be interested to see how Wisconsin uses him at the higher level. He has handled both positions well, but I think he is most comfortable at wing at the high level. He will do well wherever he plays.
You mentioned to the La Crosse Tribune that your gut reaction was that Jack would be drafted. Did you know how serious the interest was in him? Did you have any interaction with NHL scouts?
I talked with about 1/3 of the teams in the league and I knew that he had talked with most if not all of the clubs. I think if you look at what he did in the Elite League playing for Team Wisconsin, combine that with being the high-school player of the year in Wisconsin, and the amazing numbers he put up at the NHL Combine, I thought he would get drafted for sure. We had NHL scouts at pretty much every game that we played this season.
Gorniak was your captain for the past two seasons, and has been named the Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association Player of the Year. What kind of a personality does he bring to the locker room?
Kids at our level looked up to Jack for a number of reasons. He played a lot of hockey at a very high level. He was a no-doubt choice for the players and coaches to be one of the captains on our team. Montreal put out a video clip of interviews after Jack was drafted. He made the comment that I think says the type of person he is. It was something about how he decided to come back to West Salem his senior year to finish out his career with the same kids he played his whole life with, and that that decision was the best decision he ever made. He has tremendous loyalty to our group of players and to our team. Jack has tremendously high character.
How do you think Jack will adapt to the college game at the University of Wisconsin next season?
I think there will be a bit of a learning curve. He made the choice to skip the junior hockey route, which cost him a year or two of development from a physical strength standpoint. He already moved in at Wisconsin and has started classes and workouts with their staff. I think he is going to improve more this summer and this season than he has at any point of his life. But I think he has the skills necessary to succeed at that level for sure. The staff at Wisconsin is top-notch and Jack will soak in as much as he can from that staff and the players in the program. I am so excited to see how he progresses.
For some, it’s a bit of an anomaly to see a player drafted straight out of a public high school. Wisconsin has a good history there, though. Joe Pavelski, Craig Smith, Jack McCabe, Jack Skille, these players all competed in the high-school circuit before going to the University of Wisconsin. What can you say about this circuit as a development path to the NHL?
High-school hockey in Wisconsin is often overlooked because of how excellent high-school hockey is in our neighbor Minnesota. However, our top-end players have demonstrated that they play at an elite level and that their skills transition well into the NHL level. The coaches in Wisconsin work well together to promote our game and provide our kids opportunities to excel at higher levels. Jack is definitely a product of all that our state offers, having played four years for our team in West Salem as well as playing for our state team, Team Wisconsin. Jack was our chosen player of the year to represent Wisconsin and I think he has done very well so far and will continue to do so in the future.
You had a bit of a playing career yourself, playing a couple of seasons for Minnesota in the North American Hockey League. How does Gorniak’s style compare to your own?
About the only thing I had as an advantage over Jack is size. I am a bigger frame than he is. I think if we were playing against each other Jack would skate circles around me and make me look like a fool. Thankfully, I could always make sure Jack was on my team when we scrimmaged during practice so I didn’t have to face the embarrassment!!
Is there anything else we should know about Jack Gorniak?
He is a very humble, loyal kid who is dedicated to hockey at all times. His goal for the last several years has been to reach his fullest potential. He is committed to making the most out of his opportunities, and I am excited to see what he is able to do at Wisconsin and beyond.