Penguins' fourth-round draft choice from Germany has good bloodlines
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LOS ANGELES -- When he was 11, maybe 12, Tom Kuehnhackl was rooting around in his basement in Germany when he found a DVD.
"It had my dad on it, and it said he was one of the greatest hockey players in all of Europe," Kuehnhackl said. "I was surprised about that. I had no idea. He played for the German national team, but he also played in the Czech Republic, Switzerland."
Erich Kuehnhackl, now a vice president of the German national hockey team, played in three Olympics, winning a bronze medal in 1976, 10 world championships and was part of four German pro league championships. He is in the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.
He never played in the NHL, but his son will have a shot to do that.
Tom Keuhnhackl, a 6-foot-2, 172-pound right winger, was selected Saturday by the Penguins in the fourth round of the NHL draft.
He had hoped to play in North America last season but was obligated by contract to remain with the Landshut Cannibals, getting 12 goals and 21 points in 38 games. He expects to join Windsor of the junior Ontario Hockey League this coming season.
Keuhnhackl might not have known early on that his father was a star, but he knew he had hockey in his blood, and he first strapped on skates at 2. Since then, he has endured friends who don't understand why he is interested in a sport other than soccer.
"Germany, everybody is around soccer," said Kuehnhackl, who speaks nearly flawless English. "That's it. Nobody cares about hockey."
So, while so many people he knows in Germany were glued to the World Cup soccer matches, he was sitting anxiously in Staples Center waiting to hear his name. When it was the Penguins who called it, Kuehnhackl was ecstatic.
"There's a lot I know about the Penguins, especially the best players maybe in the world, like [Sidney] Crosby, [Evgeni] Malkin. On defense, [Sergei] Gonchar, Kris Letang. Goalie, [Marc-Andre] Fleury," he said, his eyes wide. "Oh, my God. Just awesome players.
"I had no idea [who would pick me], but it's great to be picked by the Penguins."
It was an eye-opening weekend for the 18-year-old, who was dazzled by Los Angeles and pleasantly surprised by the full house at the arena Friday evening for the first round of the draft.
Kuehnhackl had been to the United States once before, in 2004, while on vacation with his parents. He got to see a Stanley Cup final game between Tampa Bay and Calgary.
"It was an awesome feeling to be in [an NHL] rink," he said.
The rinks here are smaller than the international-sized ice surface he is used to, but he is looking forward to making that transition.
"Everybody's going faster, playing physically. I can use my body for that," Kuehnhackl said.
"I'm a big player and I like to protect the puck, get the puck to the goal, create scoring chances. I see the open guy. I think I'm a good skater."
Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins' director of amateur scouting, said Kuehnhackl was spotted in a couple of European tournaments and targeted as a prospect.
Kuehnhackl's father was not able to make the trip to the draft, so Penguins general manager Ray Shero could not validate a memory he has from the late 1970s or early 1980s when his father, Fred, coached the New York Rangers.
Ray Shero believes as a youngster he might have met Erich Keuhnhackl.
"I want to say he came over to the Rangers' training camp when my dad was there," Shero said. "I asked [Tom] that. He wasn't sure. I think he was, and I'm pretty sure if he was, I was there that day at training camp."
He never could have imagined a few decades later that he would be giving the German player's son a crack at the NHL.
NOTE -- Negotiations with agents for defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Dan Hamhuis are expected to resume in a big way today, after all concerned used Sunday to travel home from the entry draft in Los Angeles. Gonchar and Hamhuis are eligible for unrestricted free agency if not signed by Thursday. Although working out deals with those two remains management's top priority, talks with the agents for winger Bill Guerin and defensemen Mark Eaton and Jordan Leopold are expected to continue.
First Published June 28, 2010 12:00 am