NHL DRAFT: Penguins make trendy choices
Stephen Johns of Wampum, Pa., is welcomed to the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks being selected in the second round of the NHL draft Saturday in Los Angeles.
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LOS ANGELES -- The NHL draft came to California, and the league's teams, including the Penguins, left with a lot of American players.
"I think it's great," said Penguins general manager Ray Shero, who also is involved in USA Hockey.
"Especially to see the kids from California taken in the first round, it's come a long way. It just goes to show you, it's great for U.S. hockey."
In the first round Friday, the Penguins took a native Californian, forward Beau Bennett, one of two Californians selected in that round.
A record 11 Americans were selected in the first round, and a record-tying 21 were selected in the first two rounds. Of the 210 prospects picked, 59 are Americans. Four of the Penguins' six draft picks are from the United States.
The three who were selected Saturday on the second day of the draft at Staples Center were right winger Bryan Rust, of suburban Detroit, who plays for the United States Development Program's under-18 team and was selected in the third round, 80th overall; left winger Kenneth Agostino, a New Jersey high school player headed to Yale who was taken in the fifth round, 140th overall; and defenseman Joe Rogalski, of Buffalo, who plays for Sarnia of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
In addition, Stanley Cup champion Chicago selected defenseman Stephen Johns, of Wampum, Lawrence County, in the second round with the 60th pick. He is another member of the USDP's under-18 squad and is headed to Notre Dame.
"It's an unbelievable honor to [get drafted] coming from Western Pennsylvania, kind of like a football area where hockey's not a really big sport," said Johns, the fourth-highest NHL draftee from Western Pennsylvania. "It's kind of putting Western Pennsylvania on the map as a hockey town.
"It just shows you what USA Hockey's been lately. The future's been looking brighter for USA Hockey every day."
The only Penguins picks who are not American are right winger Tom Kuehnkackl, a German player who next season will join Windsor of the OHL and was selected in the fourth round, 110th overall; and defenseman Reid McNeill, an Ontario native who played for his hometown of London in the OHL. McNeill was the team's final pick, 170th overall in the sixth round.
The Penguins traded their seventh-round pick to San Jose for a seventh-round selection in 2011.
"There's so many new pockets where hockey has caught on, a whole new group of athletes -- California, Phoenix, places that weren't typically hockey places are producing some good players now," said Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins' director of amateur scouting.
Heinbuck labeled the team's 2010 draft class "a decent mix."
"Beau Bennett's the highly skilled guy that we hope will take off, and Bryan Rust is the more complete package, the playoff type of performer that's going to be out there on the penalty kill and blocking shots but also chipping in with goals," Heinbuck said.
"Kuehnhackl is what we always call in hockey that raw guy that has that potential to fill out, get a lot bigger. If that happens and he enhances his skill even further, then you've got a 6-foot-3 left winger that gets up and down the ice pretty well.
"Kenny Agostino is a college guy that is going to take some time to develop at Yale. Skill package is excellent. His feet need to get a little quicker. He realizes that. But he brings that down low puck protection skill."
The final two picks, Rogalski and McNeill, he said, are "raw players that have a body and certain skills to work with, and you hope that they progress."
Rust said even players from hockey hotbeds in the United States, as he is, are getting better training by the time they reach draft age.
"The National Team Development Program has really helped," he said. "It's great at building strength. It builds character on and off the ice. That really goes a long way."
Agostino is the second Delbarton High School player in as many years to be drafted by the Penguins, who last year took defenseman Alex Velischek, now playing college hockey for Providence.
"I think hockey is rising in the U.S.," Agostino said. "It's great."
First Published June 27, 2010 12:00 am