SUNRISE, Fla. -- Andong Song became the first Chinese-born player to be selected in the NHL Draft when the New York Islanders chose him Saturday in the sixth round (No. 172).
The 6-foot, 161-pound defenseman, who plays at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, had three goals and seven assists in 26 games. He said he patterns his game after former Detroit Red Wings star Nicklas Lidstrom.
More important than Song's statistics is the significance of his birthplace: Beijing.
"I am the first," he said. "Hopefully what I want to do is rally people behind me. Not focus on myself but do something good for Chinese hockey."
Longmou Li of Chinese television station CCTV was part of a camera crew that's been following Song for three years. He said there was a lot of anticipation in China to see when Song would be picked.
"We didn't go live for the first round but we're live for the second round," Li said. "And on a Saturday night at 10 p.m., I heard it reached 2.5 million people waiting for his news."
Song said having the camera crew recording his every move already has him feeling like a star, but said he didn't mind the pressure.
"To be the first Chinese player, it's a lot of pressure from people back home," he said. "Good pressure. That'll motivate me to become a better player and hopefully I'll make them proud."
Song came to hockey almost by accident.
"When I was 6 years old I kept getting sick as a child and my mom tried finding a sport for me and hockey came up," Song said. "I tried it out and fell in love with it."
Song said finding places to play hockey in Beijing required some improvisation. There were two ice rinks, but neither was close to NHL size. At times, he had to practice on a speed skating oval.
"There was a big loop and the section in the middle would be all concrete," Song said. "We used to section off part of the track, put a net in there and start shooting pucks around. We had to improvise a lot growing up."
Song said his team won a tournament in China when he was 10, and that's when his family moved to Oakville, Ontario. He began playing with the Oakville Rangers minor-hockey program; that attracted the attention of Lawrenceville, one of the top prep-school programs in the northeastern United States.
He graduated this year, and said next season he'll play at Philips Academy in Andover, Mass., another top prep school, as a post-graduate. He plans to use 2015-16 to earn a spot with an NCAA team.
Song also will continue to play internationally; he's played the past two years for China at the IIHF Division II-B World Under-18 Championship; he was the captain of the team at the tournament this year and had two assists in five games.
China isn't close to being ready to challenge the traditional international hockey powers, but Song said he's noticed the level of play growing rapidly.
"When I started playing there weren't a lot of people there," he said. "There wasn't much support for the game. Last year when I went back, it had been eight years since I'd seen Chinese hockey and it was tremendous how far it's grown. I'm sure they'll keep trying to catch up to Europe and North America and Russia. There's still a gap between them, but I'm sure if we focus on hockey we can catch up."
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Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor