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NHL.com: Record-setting night for USA at Entry Draft

Saturday, 06.26.2010 / 3:52 PM CT / Predators Draft Central
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NHL.com: Record-setting night for USA at Entry Draft
LOS ANGELES -- Unofficially, a record 11 American-trained players were drafted among the top 30 choices during the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on Friday -- topping the former mark of 10 Americans drafted in 2006 and '07.

Officially, there were 10 American-born players drafted, which would actually equal the mark, but Cam Fowler, who moved to Michigan from Windsor, Ontario, at the age of 2, and who has competed internationally for Team USA, puts the Americans over the top.

Preds Pick Three Americans
The Nashville Predators selected three US-born players in this year's draft, each from a different state. First round pick Austin Watson hails from Michigan (though his plays his junior hockey in the Onatrio Hockey League). In the third round, the Preds tabbed Californian Taylor Aronson. Nashville also selected defenseman Anthon Bitetto from Indiana in the sixth round.
For the record, let's call it 10.5, as not only does Fowler hold dual citizenship, but he played two seasons in Ann Arbor as a member of the U.S. National Team Developmental Program.

Still, Canadian-born skaters dominated the top of the charts, ultimately taking 14 of the top 30 selections. Not until NTDP goalie Jack Campbell was selected No. 11 overall by the Dallas Stars did the Americans even come into the picture.

"I have 15 people here, including my goalie coach, teammates and coaches and to have everybody here and the support back home and then go 11th overall to a great organization is really a dream come true," Campbell told NHL.com. "To be the first American drafted … I don't even know what to say because I'm a little in shock. To be honest, I don't know how Cam Fowler lasted until No. 12. Anaheim got, in my opinion, probably the best player in the Draft. He's going to have an unbelievable career in the NHL."

When told of his comment, Fowler returned the accolades.

"Jack is such an unbelievable kid; he's so humble," Fowler told NHL.com. "For him to say something like that, it's really touching for me. Sitting there, it was hard for me, but I was happy to see Jack go up there and he worked hard every day and he deserved it. I'm just happy for USA Hockey in general. We have a proud showing here and more to come for sure."

The highest two-round total of American-born players ever drafted occurred in 2007 -- 21.

Following Campbell and Fowler, Minnesota's Derek Forbort went 15th (Los Angeles Kings), Michigan's Austin Watson went 18th (Nashville Predators), Minnesota's Nick Bjugstad went 19th (Florida Panthers), California's Beau Bennett went 20th (Pittsburgh Penguins), Maryland's Jarred Tinordi went 22nd (Montreal), Massachusetts' Kevin Hayes went 24th (Chicago Blackhawks), Massachusetts' Charlie Coyle went 28th (San Jose Sharks), California's Emerson Etem went 29th (Anaheim Ducks) and Minnesota's Brock Nelson went 30th (Islanders).

At the time Campbell was chosen by the Stars, Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of USA Hockey, was speaking with NHL.com on the draft floor. A big smile crossed his face.

"Dallas is getting a big-game player that has consistently performed well," Johannson said. "The bigger the event, the bigger the stage, the kid is taking it on. I think if you just see his physical maturity from when he played Under-20s to now, it's unbelievable. He's continuing to grow into a great young man, but he's definitely shown a confidence and an ability on the ice. I think that's just going to continue in the NHL."

Johannson was pleased to learn that 11 players trained in the United States were taken in the first round.

"I guess it proves we're doing a better job of developing and training our players and I think NTDP has certainly enhanced their readiness to be playing a high level of hockey," Johannson said. "We've seen that with success of the Under-18's and World Juniors, and now you're seeing it from guys like Patrick Kane and Erik Johnson and the success they've had at a very young age in the NHL."

For Campbell, Fowler, Forbort and Tinordi, the NTDP proved to be a vital part of their hockey careers.

"We're getting there," Fowler said. "Canada is always going to have those skilled players and a love for the game and I think that's something we Americans are still working on. We're trying to get more followers into this game and it starts with states like California and Florida and building it up from the bottom up. So we're definitely on our way, we've had a good couple of years here, with World Juniors and World Championship events."

Johannson feels the future is looking even brighter for USA Hockey thanks to the NTDP and the United States Hockey League. Both have become relative feeder systems to the U.S. college route.

"I think the depth throughout the USHL is excellent," he said. "It's a hard league to play in. The competitive balance is very strong."

Bjugstad, who was named Mr. Hockey in Minnesota at Blaine High School, was the first high school player chosen. He'll attend the University of Minnesota in the fall.

"The (Florida) Panthers understand that I have always wanted to play for the Gophers," Bjugstad told NHL.com. "They've had a rough couple of years, but I think this year they're going to turn it around and I want to be a part of that solution so hopefully we can do well and I can develop as a player and person."

In addition to Bjugstad, the nephew of Scott Bjugstad who played nine NHL seasons between 1983-84 and 1991-92, Hayes of Nobles Academy in Massachusetts and Nelson of Warroad in Minnesota were also scholastic hockey standouts tabbed in the opening round.

"Minnesota high school hockey is top of the line in the country," he said. "I consider the competition pretty good and I learned how to become a leader and I developed as a player in high school."

Bennett, the highest drafted California-born and -trained player in Draft history, is pleased with how far USA Hockey has come, particularly on the West Coast.

"It's nice to see," Bennett said. "U.S. hockey is definitely up-and-coming. In the major tournaments this year, the U.S. held their own and won a couple as well, and it's really nice to see hockey in the States taking these steps forward."

Prior to Bennett becoming the highest California native ever to be drafted by an NHL team, defenseman Jonathon Blum of Long Beach held that distinction as the 23rd overall pick by the Nashville Predators in 2007.

"It's unbelievable (to be drafted)," he continued. "It's an unreal experience and shows interest in hockey and how it's growing in California and coming west. It's been fun."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer

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