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Home cooking a theme for several first-round picks

by Mike G. Morreale

PHILADELPHIA -- Dylan Larkin is going home.

A product of the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 in the United States Hockey League was born in Waterford, Mich., less than an hour away from Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound center was as surprised as anyone when the Red Wings opted to select him No. 15 in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center on Friday.

Larkin was one of several top prospects to be selected by a team with some sort of local tie.

"It's awesome to be picked by Detroit," Larkin said. "I grew up just north of Detroit and all my friends and family were Wings' fans. It's a great organization and I'm excited to now be a part of the team."

Larkin, the first American-born player to be chosen in the draft, earned a gold medal as an alternate captain for the United States at the 2014 U-18 World Championship. He produced two goals and four points in the tournament. Before joining the USNTDP, Larkin began his career with the Lakeland Hockey Association in Waterford and later played for Belle Tire Hockey Club in Detroit, where he served as captain for the Bantam team that captured a national championship in 2011.

"There were a few members of the Red Wings organization who walked by me prior to making the pick and I was waiting for them to look at me but they didn't," Larkin said. "I was nervous and my heart was racing, but I'm so happy now. It was a great feeling."

Forward Jake Virtanen of the Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League was thrilled to be drafted by his hometown team, the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks, one of the busiest teams Friday, selected the New Westminster, British Columbia, native at No. 6.

Virtanen closed out his second season in the WHL with a team-best 45 goals, the fifth most in the league, and ranked third on Calgary with 71 points. He also won gold with Canada at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial and bronze at the 2014 Under-18 World Championship in Finland, tying for the team lead with three goals and six points in seven games.

"I'm kind of looking at it like it's playing at my home barn, growing up and watching them play," Virtanen said. "And I'm really excited to play in front of my friends and family. I've lived in Langley and Abbotsford both, so I know my friends are going to be excited. So I'm really looking forward to it."

Virtanen acknowledged being a big fan of former Canucks forward Markus Naslund, who spent 11-plus seasons in Vancouver.

"Growing up, Markus Naslund was always my favorite player," Virtanen said. "I idolize him still. He was an amazing player, and when the team needed him, he was always there to make the team better and make his teammates better."

Another hometown connection occurred later in the first round when the Chicago Blackhawks selected Nick Schmaltz of the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers. Schmaltz, of Verona, Wisconsin, starred for the Chicago Mission Bantam Major team for a few years before moving to the USHL.

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman opted to move up in the draft for the opportunity to select Schmaltz, sending the No. 27 and No. 62 picks to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for the No. 20 selection.

Schmaltz actually centered a line for Chicago Mission with top European prospect William Nylander, selected No. 8 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not surprisingly, Nylander and Schmaltz were standouts, combining for 58 goals and 116 points in 2010-11.

"I couldn't be happier," Schmaltz said. "I grew up a Blackhawks fan. Just to hear my name called was a true honor."

Schmaltz, who admitted he attended two Stanley Cup Playoff games at United Center in Chicago, led the United States to a gold medal at the 2013 World Junior A Challenge with a tournament-high 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in four games. He was named the World Junior A Challenge MVP.

"We've been really following him starting last August, the first tournament of the year over in Slovakia," Bowman said. "He was probably the best player [there]. We saw him available and we were calling around to see who might be willing to trade the pick to us and it worked out."

There were a few other intriguing choices with ties to the organization making the pick Friday.

Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford turned back the clock when he and his staff decided to select forward Kasperi Kapanen of KalPa in Finland with the No. 22 pick. Rutherford was the GM of the Hartford Whalers in 1995 when he targeted Kasperi's father, Sami Kapanen, in the fourth round (No. 87) of the 1995 draft.

"We had him rated seventh on our list, and it's exciting for me because I drafted his dad," Rutherford told the Penguins website. "I don't know how often that happens, that you draft a dad and his son."

Kapanen, who played alongside his dad as a member of KalPa, lived in Philadelphia for six years when his father starred at forward and defense for the Flyers.

"I consider [Philadelphia] my home, so it's really an honor to be drafted in Philly," Kapanen said. "It's kind of a twist going to Pittsburgh, but that's not a problem. They've got a great franchise and I'm really happy to go there."

German-born Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL) was drafted No. 3 by the Edmonton Oilers. Ironically, Draisaitl's father, Peter, skated with former Hall of Famer Mark Messier, a linchpin of the Oilers' championship run, in Cologne, Germany, where the elder Draisaitl played during parts of his career.

"They've had so many great players on their team, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Craig MacTavish," Leon Draisaitl said. "All those guys [were] stars in the league and wearing the same jersey as they [did] is unbelievable."

Peter Draisaitl was a Czech-born, German professional hockey player who participated in numerous international tournaments for Germany as a member of their men's national team, including the 1988, 1992 and 1998 Winter Olympics.


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