The NHL Entry Draft has historically been dominated by Canadian-born players.
And usually, the American-born players that do end up being selected in the draft hail from hockey hotbeds like Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan.
But this year, Pittsburgh will be amply represented, as the Steel City is set to have its best NHL draft class ever.
A total of five prospects who grew up playing developmental hockey in the Pittsburgh area – John Gibson (Baldwin), Brandon Saad (Gibsonia), J.T. Miller (Coraopolis/E. Palestine, OH), Vince Trocheck (Upper St. Clair) and Barrett Kaib (Upper St. Clair) – are ranked among the best players eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, set for June 24-25 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
|From left: Trocheck, Saad, Gibson, Miller and Kaib on the Penguins bench at CONSOL Energy Center. View Photo Gallery |
To top it off, three of those players – Gibson, Saad and Miller – are projected as potential first-round picks.RELATED: Five Pittsburgh-Area Prospects Ranked Among the Best for 2011 NHL Entry Draft >>
To put that into perspective, Pittsburgh has never had more than two players selected at any one draft – which goes a total of seven rounds and sees 210 players chosen. The area’s last first-round pick came 10 years ago, when Plum native R.J. Umberger was taken 16th overall by Vancouver in 2001.
And while Western Pennsylvania is making its mark on the NHL – Upper St. Clair natives Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay) and Dylan Reese (New York Islanders) along with Pittsburgh natives Mike Weber (Buffalo) and Matt Bartkowski (Boston) are a few of the system's products – the area has never seen a draft class quite like this.
“I think it’s awesome,” Saad said. “To be drafted is exciting in itself, but to have the draft class that we have – with potentially five guys (from Pittsburgh) getting drafted and to know every one of them on top of that – it’s definitely a great experience.”
Gibson is the No. 1-ranked North American goaltender on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s final rankings, while Saad is ranked at No. 19, Miller is ranked No. 23 and Trocheck is ranked No. 42 among North American skaters.
On the Red Line Report – an independent scouting review – Miller is ranked No. 10 overall among all skaters while Saad is ranked No. 21, Gibson is ranked No. 32, Trocheck is ranked No. 69 and Kaib is ranked No. 193.RELATED: Unexpected Reunion >>
So to celebrate this unique period in Pittsburgh hockey history, the Penguins gathered all five young men – who all played for the Pittsburgh Hornets elite travel program at some point – at CONSOL Energy Center on Friday.
They received a tour of the Penguins locker room and facilities, posed for a group photo and conducted on-camera interviews – including a roundtable discussion – for the team’s archives.
“It was amazing,” Trocheck said. “The whole experience was really great. I think the locker room was unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it. They do a lot for their players here, and it’s just real cool to see how everything goes.”
Kaib agreed, saying "It’s top notch. The best I’ve ever seen. It’s just beautiful, and obviously the Pens deserve what they got. They’ve got a great squad, great coaching staff."
But while the players knew they were going to get a behind-the-scenes look at the day-to-day operations of the team they grew up rooting for, they certainly weren’t expecting a visit from head coach Dan Bylsma – who gave them a tour of the coaches offices – and captain Sidney Crosby
“To be able to meet Crosby and Bylsma at the same time was the icing on the cake,” Saad said.RELATED: Pittsburgh Connection Makes Winning Gold Extra Special >>
It was especially meaningful for the players to meet Crosby, as the Penguins star had a profound impact on them when they were coming up through the Pittsburgh developmental system, as all five of them were quite young – between 11-12 years old – when Crosby broke into the league in 2005.
To be drafted is exciting in itself, but to have the draft class that we have – with potentially five guys (from Pittsburgh) getting drafted and to know every one of them on top of that – it’s definitely a great experience. - Brandon Saad
“That was an honor to meet him,” Miller said. “He’s the best hockey player in the world, in my opinion, and it was great to shake his hand and even just to see him around.”
While the day’s activities were special to the players, one of the things they’ll remember most is the chance for the Pittsburgh kids to get together one last time before they go their separate ways.
Gibson, Miller and Kaib all spent the last two seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., and all three have committed to NCAA Division I universities for the fall – Gibson to Michigan, Miller to North Dakota and Kaib to Providence.RELATED: Pittsburgh's Influence Will Be Felt At 2011 Entry Draft >>
Saad and Trocheck will return for a second season together with Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League.
“It was cool to all be together one last time before the draft,” Gibson said.
Trocheck agreed, saying “It was definitely special to be able to go through this whole entire experience with all of the five guys I grew up playing with.”Make sure to check back next week for PittsburghPenguins.com's daily coverage of the 2011 NHL Scouting Combine, including a blog from top prospect J.T. Miller!WATCH: Pittsburgh-Area Draft Prospects Tour CONSOL Energy Center: