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Pittsburgh natives played major role in 2011 draft

Thursday, 10.27.2011 / 3:04 PM / 2012 NHL Draft

By Adam Kimelman and Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writers

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Pittsburgh natives played major role in 2011 draft
This year's draft being held in the Steel City comes on the heels of four products of the city's hockey system being taken in the top three rounds of last year's draft.
The 2012 NHL Draft will be held in Pittsburgh, but it was the 2011 draft in Minnesota at which the Steel City made it first big impact on the future of the NHL.

Four players with Pittsburgh hockey roots -- forwards J.T. Miller, Brandon Saad and Vincent Trocheck, as well as goaltender John Gibson -- were chosen in the first three rounds of last June's draft.

Much of that success can be credited to the Penguins' three Stanley Cup championships, as well as the roster of current and future Hall of Famers who helped win those Cups.

Pittsburgh native J.T. Miller was chosen in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft. (Getty Images)
"There have been a bunch of stars in Pittsburgh, including Mario (Lemieux) and Sid (Crosby), and they all helped in really promoting the game in this area," Saad told NHL.com. "As I got older, more people from the area began paying more attention to the sport, and for guys like me, we just had a lot of fun with it."

"I think it's a validation of a long journey that Pittsburgh has taken in hockey," David Morehouse, Penguins CEO/President and a Pittsburgh native, told NHL.com.

Saad was like any other adolescent growing up in Gibsonia, Pa., playing baseball, soccer, football and, of course, hockey. He had a special gift for the latter, once starring for Pine Richland High School in the Penguins Cup championship at Mellon Arena.

He went on to star for the U.S. National Team Development Program's under-18 team and then the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. Taken by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round (No. 43), his outstanding training camp earned him a spot on the Hawks' opening-night roster. Saad started the regular-season opener at left wing on the team's top line, playing alongside center Jonathan Toews and right wing Patrick Sharp. He was just the second player drafted outside the first round to play in the NHL in his draft year since the 2003-04 season.

"A lot of people had him as a mid-first round pick and we thought so, as well," Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman said. "We were hoping he might slide. Sometimes you hope and you're right, and we were right."
 
After going scoreless with three shots in two games, the Blackhawks sent Saad back to Saginaw, where's he continued to develop into a star. In five OHL games, he has 8 goals and 13 points, and earned Canadian Hockey League Player of the Week honors for the week ending Oct. 23, when he scored 6 goals and 10 points in three games.

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Aiding Saad in his efforts back in Saginaw is fellow Pittsburgh native Trocheck. A third-round pick of the Florida Panthers (No. 64), the center is second on the team with 17 points in 14 games.

"Character guy," Panthers Director of Scouting Scott Luce said. "Very close to his family. He stepped outside the box and went and played in Michigan (Little Caesars AAA program) from Pennsylvania at a young age. This guy wants to be a hockey player."

Miller was taken by the New York Rangers with the 15th pick of the draft, making him the first Pittsburgh-area resident taken in the first round since the Vancouver Canucks selected R.J. Umberger with the 16th pick in 2001.

"To be first is a cool feeling, I guess," Miller said after being picked. "But it doesn't really matter with those (Pittsburgh) guys. They're a great group of guys."
 
Now playing with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, Miller -- who was born just over the border in East Palestine, Ohio, but played his youth hockey in the Pittsburgh area -- has 14 points in 12 games. He had 35 points in 35 games with the U.S. National Team Development Program's Under-18 team last season.

Gibson, who also was born in Pittsburgh, was the second goaltender taken last June, going to the Anaheim Ducks in the second round (No. 39). After an outstanding season in 2010-11 with the USNTDP's U-18 team that earned him the top spot among North American goaltenders in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, he's now starring for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. In nine games, he's 6-2-0 with a 2.94 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage that ranks sixth in the league.

"He has size and presence in the net and moves with power," USNTDP goalie coach Joe Exter said. "The best part is he's not just a limited goaltender for being a big guy. He's multi-dimensional. He has power, athleticism and he's got good flexibility -- and those parts of his game allow him to have success at the high level. He also has a calm demeanor in the net."
 
Gibson, Miller and Saad all played together with the Pittsburgh Hornets hockey program and could be teammates again in the near future -- all three turned in strong showings at the U.S. national junior evaluation camp in August, and are in the running for spots on the U.S. team that will play at the 2012 World Junior Championship.

But they know they wouldn't be future stars were it not for the Penguins' championship history.

"My dad saw the Pens win the Cup in '92, so he wanted me to pick up a hockey stick," Miller said. "Who knows -- if they wouldn't have won, I may not be sitting here now."
 
"I was just a big Mario fan," added Gibson, who recalled playing hockey in the Civic Arena parking lot prior to going in to watch a Pens game. "He was a household name."

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter at: @NHLAdamK. Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
 
2012 NHL Draft