PITTSBURGH -- The United States Hockey League can take pride in the fact NHL scouts and general managers are certainly realizing the exceptional talent from within.
Following a record-breaking opening round of the NHL Draft on Friday in which six players from the USHL were selected (including three from the U.S. Under-18 National Team Development Program), 18 more were plucked on Day 2 at the Consol Energy Center. Of the 10 players from the USNTDP that were chosen over two days, three were drafted by the Washington Capitals (No. 100 Thomas DiPauli, No. 137 Connor Carrick, No. 167 Riley Barber).
There were also four players drafted who played a few games in the USHL this season, including Indiana's Cristoval "Boo" Nieves (New York Rangers, No. 59), Fargo's Dominic Toninato (Toronto Maple Leafs, No. 126), Omaha's Jake Bischoff (New York Islanders, No. 185) and the NTDP's Danny O'Regan (San Jose Sharks, No. 138).
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Last year, 28 players from the USHL were selected over the two-day event. The league has now had at least one player selected in the first round of the NHL Draft eight consecutive years.
"The USHL is a terrific development league and it's a good stepping stone for a player prior to entering college," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com.
Those first-round gems included defenseman Jacob Trouba (No. 9, Winnipeg Jets) of the USNTDP, center Zemgus Girgensons (No. 14, Buffalo Sabres), defenseman Michael Matheson (No. 23, Florida Panthers) of the Dubuque Fighting Saints, defenseman Jordan Schmaltz (No. 25, St. Louis Blues) of the Green Bay Gamblers, defenseman Brady Skjei (No. 28, New York Rangers) and center Stefan Matteau (No. 29, New Jersey Devils) of the USNTDP.
"The USHL is a great league," Dubuque head coach and former NHL player Jim Montgomery said. "It has great organizations, great coaches and great players and I think the players are getting more recognized for the success the previous USHL alumni are having currently in the NHL."
The highest American-born player selected taken at the Draft this year was center Alex Galchenyuk of the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting. Galchenyuk, born in Milwaukee, Wis., went to the Montreal Canadiens with the third overall pick and became the fifth American selected in the first round by the Habs in the past six drafts. There were 56 Americans drafted and Trouba was the first U.S.-born skater from the USHL.
"I was in Winnipeg for a week last year at the Under-17 Challenge and it was cold," Trouba said with a smile. "But it's a great hockey city and they really pack the building every night and I'm excited they have hockey back and excited to be part of it."
As a 16-year-old, Trouba joined his U-17 teammates against Canada-Ontario in the championship game at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2011.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said his scouting team had Trouba in their crosshairs for some time now.
"He's someone that provides a lot of different qualities that we're looking for … he's a big, strong defender that'll be tough to play against and he loves to play a hard-hitting game," Cheveldayoff said. "His character is something that's exceptional as well. He's been captain on several different teams, and we're happy we were able to get him where we did."
The Sabres traded their 21st and 42nd overall picks to the Calgary Flames to move up to No. 14 in the first round to select Dubuque's Zemgus Girgensons. The 6-foot-1 1/2, 198-pound projected second-line center is the first Latvian-born player selected in the first round of the NHL Draft.
"I haven't seen anyone with the kind of work ethic that [Girgensons] shows in practice and in the weight room since I was around Rod Brind'Amour [playing in the NHL]," Montgomery said.
Girgensons, committed to the University of Vermont in 2012-13, scored an impressive 24 goals and 55 points in 49 games as captain for Dubuque this season. Girgensons brought his game to North America because he wanted to learn the North American style of play. The plan certainly worked as he's become a gritty, two-way contributor.
"You would think he is from Flin Flon [Manitoba] or Moose Jaw [Saskatchewan] by the way he plays," Montgomery said.
What does he feel he can bring to the NHL?
"I'm a skilled power forward and I hit a lot … that's what I love about hockey," Girgensons said.
When defenseman Jordan Schmaltz was selected by the St. Louis Blues with the 25th overall selection, it marked the eighth straight year one member of the Clark Cup winning team had been picked. That list includes Just Abdelkader (Detroit Red Wings, No. 42, 2005) of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and John Gaudreau (Calgary Flames, No. 104, 2011) of the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Both Abdelkader and Gaudreau would move on to capture NCAA Championships following their USHL careers.
Schmaltz will attend the University of North Dakota in 2012-13.
"The one thing we really liked about him is he's a top four defenseman and he has some high-end skill on the power-play," said Blues Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong. "One of the strongest things we liked about him was that he could run the PP from up top. He's got great qualities in moving the puck."
Kevin Roy, Central Scouting's No. 78-ranked North American skater, not only led the USHL in scoring with 104 points but became the first player in the league's Tier 1 era (2002-present) to produce at least 50 goals in a season. He helped lead the Lincoln Stars to a 38-18-4 regular-season record -- the most wins for the Stars in 10 years. The Brown University-bound Roy, who was the 2011-12 USHL Player of the Year, was chosen in the fourth round (No. 97) by the Anaheim Ducks.
In addition to the Capitals, the Ducks (No. 36 Nicolas Kerdiles, Roy, No. 127 Brian Cooper) and Calgary Flames (No. 42 Patrick Sieloff, No. 75 Jon Gillies, No. 186 Matthew DeBlouw) each drafted three players from the USHL this year.
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