Winterhawks' NHL pipeline continues
Seeing Portland Winterhawks picked in the first round of the NHL draft has become commonplace.
But the way things unfolded Friday at Chicago's United Center was special.
Cody Glass became a trivia answer when his name was called by the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — the Winterhawks center will always be the first player drafted by the franchise that begins play next season.
Then, with the 29th pick, the Chicago Blackhawks drafted Winterhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju.
On the second day of the draft, Winterhawks defenseman Brendan De Jong was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes and forward Skyler McKenzie by the Winnipeg Jets.
The Winterhawks have had 29 first-round selections in their 41-year history.
After the seven seasons with Mike Johnston at the helm, 28 Hawks have been drafted, eight in the first round.
The best news for Winterhawks fans is each of the players drafted last weekend should be in Portland next season.
That includes Glass, who is entering his 18-year-old season. Indications are the Golden Knights were drafting for long-term value, not for immediate returns.
"He'll be certainly a guy they're going to give every opportunity to. But I think they're realistic in what they need to do," Johnston says.
Golden Knights assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon owns the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings and was that club's GM and coach before accepting the Vegas post last summer.
"He knows what it's like with (junior hockey) kids," Johnston says. "It's very hard to make that step in at 18 and 19. You hope that they're ready at 20 or 21."
Las Vegas GM George McPhee told media the Golden Knights will not rush their draft picks to the NHL.
The draft started a whirlwind weekend for Glass, who was kept busy with meetings and media demands. He is in Las Vegas this week for a team development camp.
Glass could not be reached for comment, but in interviews with the NHL Network and others he often used the word "unbelievable" to describe becoming the Gold Knights first draftee.
Glass' stock rose throughout his breakout 2016-17 season with the Winterhawks to the point where Las Vegas was going to trade up from No. 6 if needed to get him.
Like Glass, Jokiharju was not surprised to end up where he did. But the experience was unique for the Finnish defenseman.
In front of an arena filled with Blackhawks fans, Chicago stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kaine stepped to the podium. Jokiharju, who became a Blackhawks fan watching them win the 2010 Stanley Cup, heard his name called by Kaine as the fans erupted.
"Super, super cool," Jokiharju says, laughing at the memory during a phone interview before his return to Finland. "That's an honor. It's every kid's dream come true. I couldn't even believe it in my best dreams."
Both Jokiharju and Johnston say the Blackhawks are a perfect fit for the mobile defenseman.
"I couldn't really have any better organization pick me up. I'm super happy with Chicago Blackhawks," Jokiharju says, noting that he is now part of two Hawks organizations. "They need a righthanded D man, and (GM) Stan Bowman really liked my game."
Jokiharju spent the second round of the draft in the Blackhawks' suite at the United Center, doing interviews and meeting team personnel. He also spent about a half-hour Saturday signing autographs and visiting with Blackhawks fans outside the United Center.
"That was awesome."
Jokiharju will return to Chicago for a development camp in mid-July, then be involved in Finland's junior national team camp. The thrill of the draft has only sharpened his focus, it seems.
"It's awesome. But it doesn't mean anything yet." Jokiharju says. "I need to get better all the time. My goal is to be an NHL player and win the Stanley Cup. So we are far away, but the road is open now."
De Jong and McKenzie were selected after getting passed over a year ago in their first time eligible for the NHL draft. De Jong went in the sixth round (166th overall) to Carolina. McKenzie went in the seventh round (198th) to Winnipeg.
"I was really excited for Brendan and Skyler," Johnston says. "I thought they were going to be selected in the draft. You never know. There were a lot of kids at the end of the draft I saw walk out the door and hadn't been picked. So it's great for them.
"It's really a credit to them that they were passed over in their draft year and now they get drafted this year."
Johnston is looking forward to having four more drafted players in his Winterhawks lineup next season. Including recently signed Keiffer Bellows — a first-round pick of the Islanders last summer — the Hawks should have plenty of firepower.
Johnston says the publicity from having a player drafted early is a help in getting quality players to come to Portland. He says the opportunity to play with Glass was a factor in Bellows deciding to give up college hockey to join the Hawks.
"Hopefully there's some young guys we've drafted (in the bantam draft) in the last two, three years that are in a similar situation that may reconsider because we do a good job of developing players and we do have success in the draft," Johnston says.
Might that include one of the five American players drafted this year who are on the Winterhawks' 50-player list?
Forward Ryan Poeling was selected 25th overall by Montreal. He was a freshman last season at St. Cloud State.
Goalie Jake Oettinger went 26th to Dallas and is a friend of Poeling. Oettinger was a freshman teammate of Bellows at Boston University last season.
Defenseman Clayton Phillips was selected 93rd by Pittsburgh. He plays for Fargo in the U.S. Hockey League and with a September 1999 birthday was one of the youngest players eligible for this draft. He is committed to Minnesota for college hockey.
Forward Scott Reedy went 102nd to San Jose. A USA under-18 national team player last season, Reedy also is committed to Minnesota for college hockey.
Forward Cole Guttman went 180th to Tampa. The 18-year-old played last season for Dubuque in the USHL and plans to play another season there before heading to St. Cloud State.
Since all five are committed to play college hockey, it is unlikely they will become Winterhawks. Then again, Bellows' decision to leave Boston University for the Hawks shows it can happen.
"It's not something we press players and their families on. We've never done that," Johnston says. "We keep them informed and let them know that we're here, but they probably have to initiate (interest in Portland)."