Posted On Thursday, 06.21.2012 / 4:34 PM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - 2012 NHL Draft blog

Upholding the pride of the WHL

PITTSBURGH -- The last time NHL draft prospects took batting practice was two years ago at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, and the only player to reach the outfield seats was current Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brett Connolly, an alum of the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League.

Two prospects from the WHL -- Everett's Ryan Murray and Moose Jaw's Moran Rielly -- were among the seven taking batting practice Wednesday at PNC Park, but neither was able to equal Connolly's feat.

"I'm extremely disappointed," a laughing Rielly told "I was hoping to come out here and just rake it, but I didn't. It's a lot harder than I thought."

Only Jacob Trouba of the U.S. National Team Development Program came close to reaching the outfield fence.

"I was clearing the infield by the end of it, which I was happy about," Rielly said. "It was pretty impressive he could hit a home run. That's good for him."

"I didn't even hit it out of the infield," Murray told "I don't think I got one airborne outside of there. I definitely did not keep up to his reputation."

Despite not living up their WHL predecessor, the players still enjoyed themselves.

"It was a good time," Murray said. "It was fun coming out here. I hadn't touched a bat in a long time -- since I was a little kid. It was fun to come out here. You really appreciate the game a lot more."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Thursday, 06.21.2012 / 4:14 PM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - 2012 NHL Draft blog

Twins manager a big hockey fan

PITTSBURGH -- Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and his team were on the road when the 2011 NHL Draft came to Minnesota, so he wasn't going to miss a chance to watch the top prospects in action this year.

Gardenhire met the prospects and watched some of their batting practice session at PNC Park prior to his team's game Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"These guys slap a ball around pretty good," he told "We've seen some pretty good hockey players come through and whack the baseball. I've thrown a lot of BP to them."

Gardenhire also is a hockey fan, and owns a pair of goalie pads. He's even stepped into a net to take shots from Wild players.

"I got the pads," he said. "I was wearing my ice boots because there's no way I can skate -- I can't stand up on skates. I got in there and had Darby Hendrickson shoot some pucks at me. It was a blast. I didn't realize how fast the pucks came until they started hitting it at me, and that probably wasn't even fast. It is an amazing thing. I love hockey."

And like any smart baseball man, he's always keeping his eyes open for extra talent.

"Any of them pitch?" he asked.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Wednesday, 06.20.2012 / 7:00 PM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - 2012 NHL Draft blog

Prospects on high

PITTSBURGH -- The full day of events for a few of the top prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft concluded with a drive up to the top of Mount Washington for a scenic view of the Pittsburgh skyline.

The players went to the same spot Mario Lemieux visited just after he was drafted by the Penguins with the first pick of the 1984 draft. In a well-known picture, Lemieux posed in his Penguins jersey with his stick and skates over his shoulder.

On Wednesday, Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Murray and Jacob Trouba went to that same spot and posed for a similar picture.

Prior to posing, the players were shown the famed Lemieux picture. Then they were told by Penguins vice-president of communicates Tom McMillan that as a gift from the team, they would get a custom-made frame of that famed photo of Lemieux as well as their own photo from that same scenic mountain-side spot with a personalized Lemieux autograph.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Wednesday, 06.20.2012 / 6:10 PM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - 2012 NHL Draft blog

Special location for ball-hockey game

PITTSBURGH -- The top prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft didn't just to skate indoors Wednesday. They got to play ball hockey. In the middle of the famed Roberto Clemente Bridge.

Nope, not your usual location for a pick-up hockey game.

The iconic bridge was the setting for a game of 4-on-4 between the prospects and players from the Pittsburgh Ice hockey program. The program is affiliated with the NHL's Hockey is For Everyone initiative.

Ryan Murray thought the level of competition among the kids -- average age was 8 years old -- was pretty good.

"We tied them," he said. "They had some skill over there, some good shots, some good speed. Goalies were good. They had good positioning out there. It was tough to score."

Another reason the prospects had trouble scoring could have been their choice of footwear. Mikhail Grigorenko wore black dress shoes, while Nail Yakupov wore flip flops.

"Guys didn't know it was casual," Alex Galchenyuk said. "Mikhail was trying to look good and Yaki [Yakupov] just came from the showers. Guess they didn't know they were playing hockey."

There also was the usual good-natured ribbing. Jacob Trouba started the game on the bench, and when the Pittsburgh Ice team scored the game's first goal, he looked at Murray and yelled, "minus-1."

Murray heard him, and had a response: "I told him he should change his curve because every ball he was shooting was going down the bridge. The coach down there was getting a workout running up and down trying to get the ball."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Wednesday, 06.20.2012 / 5:25 PM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - 2012 NHL Draft blog

Murray: Goal to be in NHL next season

CASTLE SHANNON, Pa. -- Everett Silvertips defenseman Ryan Murray already has played three full seasons in the Western Hockey League, and if he has it his way, there won't be a fourth.

Murray, ranked second on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft, said he hopes to be in the NHL when the 2012-13 season starts.

"That's what I want to do, that's my goal," he said. "That's what I want to do next year. … I want to make the jump. Obviously it's a big one. I know I have a lot of work to do, but that's definitely my goal for next year."

Murray was born about two weeks past the cutoff date for the 2011 draft, making him one of the oldest players among the first-timers for this year's draft. He said he believes having a late birthday when it comes to the hockey season has helped him.

"I got an extra year than the other guys," he said. "I've got a pretty big head start on the other guys. I guess the scouts keep that in mind, too. I try to relate myself to the [1993-born prospects from the 2011 draft] a lot, as well."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Wednesday, 06.20.2012 / 5:08 PM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - 2012 NHL Draft blog

'Babysitter' Gibson remembers back to last year

CASTLE SHANNON, Pa. -- One of the more interested observers at the clinic on Wednesday was Pittsburgh-area resident John Gibson, who was drafted in the second round last year by the Anaheim Ducks.

He helped on the ice at Tuesday's session, but was a spectator Wednesday.

"My brother is out there," Gibson told "I came to pick him up. … I'm on babysitting duty today."

Nine-year-old Justin Gibson is a burgeoning defenseman who got the treat of skating with a few of the top prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft.

Gibson said watching the clinic brought him back to last year in Minnesota.

"It definitely was an exciting time," he said. "I know I enjoyed it with my family. It goes by fast. The main thing is just enjoy it."

Gibson, who spent last season with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, said that was the advice he was giving his friends who were up for the draft this year.

"They ask a little bit of what to expect and stuff," he said. "I just say enjoy it, it goes by fast."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Wednesday, 06.20.2012 / 4:46 PM

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor / - 2012 NHL Draft blog

Murray happy for Hartsburg

CASTLE SHANNON, Pa. -- Everett Silvertips defenseman Ryan Murray was happy to hear Craig Hartsburg, dismissed as an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames, had been hired to the same post with the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this week.

Hartsburg spent two seasons (2009-11) as coach with Everett, which happened to be Murray's first two seasons in the Western Hockey League.

"That's great for him," Murray told "He's one of the best coaches I ever had. He did a great job with our team in Everett for two years. He got a tough break from Calgary, but it's great that he's back in the NHL again. He really deserves it."

Murray said Hartsburg -- who spent 10 seasons as an NHL defenseman with the Minnesota North Stars -- taught him what he needed to get to the next level.

"He's just a really intense guy," Murray told "Every day he teaches you to work hard. You can't take a shift off when he's your coach or you're going to hear about it. He really taught me that you have to play consistent if you're going to play at a high level. He taught me that if you're going to play at a high level you have to play hard every night and you have to show up every single day."

And with the Blue Jackets currently holding the second pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, there's a chance they pair could be reunited next season.

Murray, however, would only say, "I guess there's a chance."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Posted On Wednesday, 06.20.2012 / 1:36 PM

By Tal Pinchevsky - Staff Writer / - 2012 NHL Draft blog

USA Hockey excited by defensemen in draft

The past two months have been good ones for American hockey players, culminating with Dustin Brown becoming the second U.S.-born captain to hoist the Stanley Cup and Jonathan Quick becoming the third U.S.-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy -- all on a Kings team constructed by American-born general manager Dean Lombardi.

But the celebration for USA Hockey began in April, when the National Team Development Program's Under-18s won their fourth straight world championship. Players from that tournament now are likely to be selected at the 2012 NHL Draft, to be held June 22-23 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

"It was unique this year with Zach Parise [of the New Jersey Devils] and Dustin Brown both being [Stanley Cup Final] captains from the United States, then Jonathan Quick winning the Conn Smythe. That's something we've been striving for," said Danton Cole, who coached the U.S. U-18 team. "Hopefully we see more guys like that in the NHL."

Cole's USNTDP team could figure prominently in that goal. The U-18s cruised through the world championship tournament in the Czech Republic, wrapping up gold with a 7-0 victory over Sweden in the final.

The program had five graduates selected in the top 39 picks at the 2011 Draft. This year, their choices likely will start with Jacob Trouba, a physical defenseman and national team co-captain who was No. 9 among North American skaters in Central Scouting's final ranking. He could be one of a number of U.S. defensemen hearing his name called.

"[Trouba] is a heck of a player and a really good man and a great competitor. He's going to make somebody pretty happy for a lot of years, throwing him out on right D every night," Cole said. "Staying on D, Brady Skjei is probably going to go very high as well. [He is] probably one of the best skaters to come through this program. Patrick Sieloff will go fairly high, in the first couple of rounds probably. [He has] good offensive skill but makes his mark on the defensive side of the puck by being physical. We had a pretty strong D corps this year."

The real jewel of the U-18 blue line could be its other co-captain, Seth Jones. The Texas product and son of former NBA player Popeye Jones won't be draft eligible until 2013, but is already at the top of a number of boards. If he goes No. 1, he'll be the first American to do so since USNTDP product Erik Johnson and Patrick Kane did it in in 2006 and 2007.

"He's certainly in the mix at the top there," Cole said of Jones. "He's got work to do, a whole other year to build that resume. But somebody is going to sleep well at night throwing him out every night on D.

"I felt the same way about Jacob at the end of the tournament. Those two guys did a good job."

Posted On Wednesday, 06.20.2012 / 11:41 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - 2012 NHL Draft blog

Jackets' associate coach Hartsburg knows Murray

The hiring of Craig Hartsburg as associate coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets by general manager Scott Howson on Wednesday might have confirmed one thing entering the NHL Draft.

That 2012 draft-eligible defenseman Ryan Murray of the Western Hockey League's Everett Silvertips might not last beyond the No. 2 pick in Friday's opening round at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

The Blue Jackets currently hold the No. 2 choice in the Draft. The Edmonton Oilers have the first overall selection.

Hartsburg, who spent last season as associate coach of the Calgary Flames, served as the head coach of the Silvertips from 2009 through 2011. He coached Murray for two seasons in Everett, including his rookie season in 2009-10.

Murray was named captain of the Silvertips in 2010-11 by Hartsburg despite the fact his 6-foot-1/2, 195-pound blue liner had just turned 17-years-old. The move was made when regular captain Landon Ferraro, a second-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, was sidelined due to sports hernia surgery and a bum shoulder.

"I really didn't expect it at all but I got more comfortable with it as the year went on," Murray said at the time. "Coach called me into his office one day and said that I would take over captaincy while Ferraro was out and I took the responsibility and it was a great honor to represent my team like that.

"I just kind of stayed the same way. I acted the same way towards my teammates and played the same way."

Hartsburg never wavered in naming Murray the youngest captain in franchise history.

"To me there never was a question," Hartsburg told the Everett Herald. "He's the most mature kid on our team. He exemplified what we want to be. He works hard every day, competes hard every day, cares about the team and his teammates. It's a reward for what he brings to the table."

Murray would reward his coach by leading all Everett defenders in scoring with 46 points, including 40 assists, while leading the team with a plus-18 rating.

Murray is currently NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American defenseman eligible for the Draft. He's ranked No. 2 overall behind Nail Yakupov of the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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2012 NHL Draft