In a town like Eden Prairie, Min., hockey is everywhere. With high school hockey tournaments and kids growing up playing hockey on frozen ponds, it was only natural for Florida Panthers 2011 draft pick Kyle Rau to fall in love with the game. Rau laced up ice skates for the first time when he was three-years-old and played hockey by age four.
“Hockey is everywhere and there are a lot of rinks around,” said the five-foot-eight forward. “I had a rink in my backyard and my brothers and I used it all the time.”
Years of playing hockey with his older brother Chad and twin brother Curt, helped Rau kick off his hockey career. In high school, he played for the Eden Prairie Eagles earning first-team all-state honors after leading the Eagles to a Class AA Championship. Rau received Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Award in 2011.
“When you’re young, you look up to the high school players,” Rau said. “When you win it, it’s pretty cool and special and that’s something you hold onto.”
Rau moved onto playing for the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede for the 2010-2011 season. He scored four goals with six assists (4-6—10). In the Stampede’s playoff run, he scored seven goals with five assists (7-5—12).
In 2011, St. Paul Min. hosted the NHL Entry Draft at the Xcel Energy Center. Rau and his family drove 30 minutes to the arena for the Draft. Rau was selected in his hometown by the Florida Panthers in the third round (91st overall), an unforgettable moment for the youngster.
“It was unreal,” Rau said. “I was still living in Minnesota and it was cool to drive the 20 minutes (to the Draft) with my family. It was special [being drafted by Florida]. It’s a great organization and the staff make you feel comfortable on day one.”
Committed to the University of Minnesota, Rau began playing ice hockey for the Gophers that fall and became teammates with Florida Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad. In the past, Bjugstad and Rau grew up playing against each other in pee-wee leagues. The two became roommates for a year and remain good friends today.
“I see how hard he works and Nick is one of the hardest working people out there and I’d like to follow in his path,” said Rau. “It makes you strive to be better. He’s one of my good buddies and we talk every day.”
Rau finished his freshman year strong as he came in second on the Gophers in points and third in goals (18-25—43). Rau also led the team in power-play goals that season. In his junior season, he participated in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Frozen Four. Rau tallied two assists including the game-winning goal with 0.6 seconds left with a 3-2 win over North Dakota at Frozen Four. As a senior, the forward served as team captain and recorded 41 points (20-21—41) in 39 games played, while becoming the first player to reach the 150-point mark with the Gophers since Troy Riddle in 2004.
On March 29, 2015 the Florida Panthers agreed to terms with the young forward on an entry-level contract. On April 4, 2015, Rau made his professional debut in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage against the Adirondack Flames. Rau scored his first professional goal that night. Rau played in seven games during the regular season with the Rampage and recorded two goals and with one assist (2-1—3).
This past July, Rau participated in his fifth Panthers Development camp. The soon-to-be 23-year-old looks forward to someday wearing the Panthers sweater and playing alongside his friend.
“I’m excited to eventually go pro,” he said. “It’s something you strive for your whole life and now I’m here.”