USHL Players Set for 2012 NHL Draft
Wednesday June 20, 2012
Team USA defenseman Jacob Trouba and Dubuque Fighting Saints forward Zemgus Girgensons are prospects for the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft. (photos by Tom Sorensen and Jim Naprstek)
Top prospects eager to hear names called this weekend in Pittsburgh
After a rigorous regular season and thrilling Clark Cup Playoff run, the focus for a number of United States Hockey League players shifts to what will happen off the ice this weekend at the 2012 NHL Draft taking place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 22-23.
It is the biggest day of the year for the USHL’s top NHL prospects as they anxiously wait to hear their names called by one of the 30 NHL teams during the seven-round event. A year ago at this time, a total of 28 players who played in the USHL during the 2010-11 season were chosen in the NHL Draft, in addition to nine USHL alumni selected by NHL teams. Four active or alumni USHL players were selected in the first round, equaling an all-time high for the League.
That number could be surpassed this year as several USHL players are potential selections for the first round that takes place on Friday night. Team USA defenseman Jacob Trouba is the highest rated USHL skater according to the final rankings of NHL Central Scouting. Dubuque Fighting Saints captain Zemgus Girgensons and Stefan Matteau of Team USA’s Under-18 squad are among the top ranked USHL forwards, in addition to Cristoval “Boo” Nieves who spent the latter portion of the season and playoffs with the Indiana Ice.
A quartet of defensemen are also in the potential first-round mix as Mike Matheson of the Dubuque Fighting Saints, Jordan Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers, and the Team USA tandem of Brady Skjei and Patrick Sieloff all have earned high marks from scouts leading into the weekend.
The USHL has had at least one player selected in the first round of the NHL Draft for seven consecutive years and eight different USHL teams have been represented by those selections.
USHL History at the NHL Draft
Kyle Okposo is the highest NHL Draft selection directly from the USHL after he was taken seventh overall in 2006 by the New York Islanders after completing the season with the Des Moines Buccaneers. His teammate, Trevor Lewis, was selected ten picks later by the Los Angeles Kings. Okposo and Lewis were drafted only weeks after helping the Buccaneers win the Clark Cup, the last two USHL players to be selected in the first round after winning the championship.
Defenseman Matt Greene was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the second round (44th overall) of the 2002 NHL Draft after his USHL season with the Green Bay Gamblers. Greene won the Stanley Cup this spring with the Los Angeles Kings.
Less than two years after being selected in the first round (14th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues, Jaden Schwartz made his NHL debut this past season. He led the USHL in scoring during the 2009-10 season putting up 83 points (33g, 50a) in 60 regular season games for the Tri-City Storm. The same was true for John Carlson who made his NHL debut with the Washington Capitals less than two years after the Indiana Ice defenseman was taken in the first round (27th overall) of the 2008 NHL Draft.
The last time the NHL Draft took place in Pittsburgh, Des Moines Buccaneers goaltender Scott Clemmensen was selected 215th overall by the New Jersey Devils. The Des Moines native recently completed his ninth season in the NHL, winning 14 games for the Florida Panthers.
Louis Leblanc was the story of the 2009 NHL Draft in Montreal as he was selected by his hometown Montreal Canadiens 18th overall. The Omaha Lancers forward was named USHL Rookie of the Year that season. Three picks later, John Moore was taken in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets, coming off his second season for the Chicago Steel in which he was named USHL Defenseman of the Year. Both Leblanc and Moore played in the NHL this season for the teams that drafted them.
After being named USHL Rookie of the Year after a stellar 2006-07 season with the Sioux City Musketeers, forward Max Pacioretty was selected in the first round (22nd overall) by the Montreal Canadiens. Pacioretty had his best NHL season this year, scoring a career high 33 goals for Montreal.
In seven consecutive seasons, at least one member of the Clark Cup winning team has been picked in the NHL Draft, including Justin Abdelkader who was selected in the second round (42nd overall) by the Detroit Red Wings in 2005 after helping the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders win the Clark Cup. John Gaudreau, picked in the fourth round (104th overall) last year by the Calgary Flames, was a key member of the 2011 Clark Cup title for the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Both players went on to capture NCAA Championships following their USHL careers.
Joe Pavelski could be considered the steal of the entire 2003 NHL Draft as the Waterloo Black Hawks forward was not selected until the 205th pick by the San Jose Sharks. He recently completed his sixth NHL season in which he played all 82 regular season games for the Sharks and scored a career high 31 goals. Earlier in that draft, San Jose selected Omaha Lancers defenseman Matt Carle in the second round (47th overall). He recently finished his seventh NHL season in which he played all 82 regular season games for the Philadelphia Flyers.
David Backes was selected in the second round (62nd overall) of the 2003 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues after scoring 28 goals that season for the Lincoln Stars. His linemates for the Stars, Dan Irmen (78th overall) and Ryan Potulny (87th overall) would later be selected in the third round of the draft. Backes was named captain of the Blues this season, his sixth in the NHL, and played all 82 regular season games for the third time in the past four years.
The first-ever NHL Draft pick from the USHL was Rick Zombo in 1981, just two years after the USHL first became an all-junior league in 1979. He was selected 149th overall by the Detroit Red Wings after his USHL season with the Austin Mavericks. The defenseman went on to play 652 career NHL games. His son, Dominic Zombo, spent two seasons in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede (2009-11).
Four NHL teams – Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, and Washington Capitals – have selected at least one player with USHL experience in each of the past five years at the NHL Draft.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrated its 10th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2011-12. With 28 picks during the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, 13 NHL draftees on its rosters this season, and 280 players already committed to NCAA Division I schools this season, the USHL has emerged as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent. For more information, visit us on the web at www.USHL.com or visit the League’s multiple social media platforms, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/ushlhockey), twitter (www.twitter.com/ushl), and YouTube (www.youtube.com/ushlinteractive). Fans can also watch USHL action online all season long, live or on-demand via FASTHockey (ushl.fasthockey.com).
It’s not just hockey. It’s the USHL.