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Recent draft picks cementing Dallas' place as NHL prospect hotbed

Hanas, Yoder add to the growing list of up-and-coming players selected from the Metroplex

by Josh Bogorad @JoshBogorad / DallasStars.com

As names were called one by one during October's NHL Draft, there were two in particular that brightened what has become an expanding spotlight on hockey in North Texas.

Cross Hanas from Highland Village was drafted in the second round by the Detroit Red Wings. A few hours later, Chase Yoder from Fairview was taken by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth round. With their selections, the duo became the most recent Dallas-area products to be drafted by NHL teams.

It's a list that continues to grow on a seemingly annual basis, with six local players now selected over the last five years.

 

[MORE: North Texas hockey booming after Stars' captivating run to Stanley Cup Final | Visit your local Children's Health StarCenter location]
 

Hanas and Yoder both began playing hockey in Dallas. They were on skates by three years old, and each started playing competitive, travel hockey as young kids. Hearing their names called at the NHL draft was a lifelong goal.

"It's always been something I dreamed about. Ever since I was as young as I can remember," Hanas said. "It was probably the proudest moment of my life."

As special as it was for both young men individually, collectively it was another big step forward for a region that has emerged as a hidden gem in the country's youth hockey community.

"It shows how Dallas has developed," Yoder said. "How far we've come as a program, and how we're growing. It's something we take a lot of pride in."

The Stars and the city of Dallas have made huge strides with their hockey footprint recently. The run to the Stanley Cup Final this past summer attracted global attention for the organization and its players. Hosting headline events like the 2020 Winter Classic and 2018 Draft have done the same.

As Dallas becomes more and more of a national fixture for the sport, producing top-end local players adds to that budding reputation.   

Currently there are over 1,000 DFW kids from ages 9-18 who are playing competitive, travel hockey at the Tier-I or Tier-II level. Thanks to a dedicated and talented on-ice staff, a number of resources that are not commonplace for youth programs throughout the country, a terrific relationship with the Stars organization, and emerging high-end talent from local players, more Texan hockey players are learning and developing the game in their hometown. 

Tweet from @StarCenters: Dallas made 👏Congrats to @DSEHC product @hanner71 on being selected 55th overall by @DetroitRedWings! pic.twitter.com/ABKBVjeH5o

Eric Silverman is the director of hockey operations for the Dallas Stars Elite, a top-tier youth program he helped create in 2009. He also serves as the head coach of its 16U team, where he coached both Hanas and Yoder.

"We have a really good staff of committed guys who put the players and their development first," Silverman said. "It's a really good environment for players, parents, and coaches. Our expectation is that we're going to produce players that are going to go have success at the next level."

The results back up that expectation. Just last season alone, there were 52 active Dallas Stars Elite alumni playing professional, college, or junior hockey. That list included four players in the NHL and 16 playing NCAA Division I hockey.

The Children's Health StarCenter Valley Ranch is the home rink for the Dallas Stars Elite. It serves as an homage to notable alumni, with pictures of former players that have gone on to higher levels on display inside the building.

Hanas and Yoder are now among that group.

After each had completed successful stints with the Dallas Stars Elite, they continued their careers among the best players in the country. Hanas is currently gearing up for his third season of major junior hockey for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. Yoder was also drafted by Portland in the WHL as a 15-year-old, but instead played two seasons in the United States National Team Development Program, and is currently a freshman playing at Providence College.

The amount of advancing players that the area continues to produce strengthens the reputation and standing of youth hockey in North Texas, as well as hockey overall in the region.

"It helps put this city on the map from a hockey perspective," said Silverman.

Furthermore, every local player who moves on is motivation for the next wave of DFW players. Before they were old enough to do it themselves, Hanas and Yoder remember what it felt like to watch friends and mentors climb the ranks.

"Being around the rink and knowing those guys, I thought, 'I can do that also,' " Hanas said.

Tweet from @PR_NHL: Texas forever ��� four Texas-born players were picked this year (Thomas Bordeleau, Cross Hanas, Mason Langenbrunner & Chase Yoder), the highest such total in an #NHLDraft.@masonlags_22 is the son of two-time #StanleyCup winner Jamie Langenbrunner. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/p8Bz9suyXi

"You see the banners up there at Valley Ranch, and you hope to be one of those guys one day. It's an inspiration to see other guys go on and have success at the next level."

Now, they are the players that younger kids are looking up to.

Perhaps no one appreciates that more than Hanas' father, Trevor, who helped start the Stars Elite program and has coached in it throughout its existence. He coached his son and Yoder as nine-year-olds, and currently coaches 11-year-olds in the program. He now gets to use his son as an example of what his current players can be.

"I emphasize it (to them) every day," Trevor said. "I say, 'Do you want to have your picture on the wall? You can do it. It's right there.' It's like lighting a fire." 

As the growth rate of hockey surges in the Metroplex, the effects can be seen and felt locally. But the rest of the country is noticing, too.

"We're starting to get it where people from more traditional areas are looking at our program and saying, I love what they're doing down there. I'd love to go play there," said Silverman.

That carries an enormous impact considering the general structure of youth hockey in North America.

Almost all kids begin playing at home in their local market. But as they get older, if their talent surpasses the ability of their local program to further develop and showcase it, they often times have to leave home to find a better place to play. With the ever-growing list of successful alumni who developed and refined their game in Dallas, it's proof that leaving is not necessary to get noticed.

"Markets like Michigan, Minnesota or Massachusetts have seen the players that are being produced in this area, and they're trying hard to convince players to leave and come play for their teams," said Silverman. "Having guys like Cross and Chase is huge for us. They never left and they had everything they need. You don't have to go anywhere now. You've got a program that's as strong as anywhere in the country."

"For me, leaving was never a consideration. I'm super proud of where I'm from and where I grew up. I think it fuels a lot of guys down here."

Tweet from @StarCenters: Dallas showin' up in the #NHLDraft������Congrats to @DSEHC alum @chaseyoder8 on being selected 170th overall by the @penguins! pic.twitter.com/sVukWcpyPS

Not only is Dallas able to retain players, but it has become a hockey destination itself. Of the six local players who have been drafted into the NHL since 2016, five of them are born-and-raised Texans who grew up in the program. The other, Wyatte Wylie, moved to Dallas for the very reason others opt to stay -- the strength of hockey in the area. 

The final year Hanas and Yoder spent with the Dallas Stars Elite was the 2017-18 season. They played on the 16U team and finished in the top-10 in the country, competing for a national championship. For Hanas, it remains one of his favorite memories in the sport.

"Every kid on the team was a Dallas native," he said. "To have everybody be local and we're a Top 10 team all year, that was pretty awesome. It's what I always wanted."

"Maybe we're not thought of as a hockey hotspot," Yoder said. "But we definitely should be. People should watch out."

The popularity of local hockey is at an all-time high. The Stars are currently a benchmark NHL franchise both on and off the ice. There is an elite youth hockey system in place to harness and develop local talent.

Thanks to all of that, while Hanas and Yoder are the latest local names to make a splash nationwide, they most certainly will not be the last.

"We're in such a good place and there's so many good players coming up," said Silverman. "I think if we look back 10 years from now we're going to see a ton of Hanas and Yoders and guys like that, which is going to be really exciting.

"I really believe we're just scratching the surface."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Josh Bogorad is a contributing columnist to DallasStars.com and the Stars' TV/radio play-by-play broadcaster on FOX Sports Southwest and 96.7-FM and 1310-AM The Ticket. Follow him on Twitter @JoshBogorad.

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