June 24, 2006 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Gophers Rule Roost at NHL Draft

Johnson Chosen First Overall

by Mike Machnik/CHN Senior Editor

VANCOUVER — NHL teams love the Minnesota Golden Gophers, if the league's 2006 draft is any indication.

Three of the top seven picks were Minnesota players or recruits, including Phil Kessel.

Three of the top seven picks were Minnesota players or recruits, including Phil Kessel.

Three Minnesota players or recruits were taken in the top seven picks, four in the first round and eight overall, led by incoming freshman defenseman Erik Johnson of the U.S. National Development Program.

The 6'4", 222-pound Johnson (Bloomington, Minn.) was expected to go first overall to St. Louis and did just that. It marked only the fifth time that an American was taken No. 1 and the first since 2000, when the New York Islanders made then-Boston University freshman goaltender Rick DiPietro the top choice in the draft.

Johnson is expected to still join Minnesota this fall, although he said he was keeping his options open. The 18-year-old is compared by some to former Blue Chris Pronger, who won the Hart and Norris trophies with St. Louis before being traded to Edmonton last year.

Forward Phil Kessel, who just completed his freshman year with the Gophers after scoring 18 goals and adding 33 assists for 51 points, was taken fifth by Boston. Kessel was the consensus No. 1 pick before last season but slipped to fifth in the final CSS North American rankings.

Another Minnesota recruit, forward Kyle Okposo (Des Moines, USHL), went seventh to the New York Islanders, and 2007 Gopher recruit David Fischer (D, Apple Valley HS) was selected with the 20th pick by Montreal.

College players dominated the early picks, as North Dakota forward Jonathan Toews was taken third by Chicago. Toews scored 22 goals as a rookie and 39 points, helping the Fighting Sioux to the WCHA Championship and a berth in the NCAA semifinals.

In all, four of the top seven picks were U.S. college players or recruits who have committed to play college hockey.

A total of eight college players and recruits were taken in the opening round, with Michigan accounting for the other three in another impressive showing. Defenseman Mark Mitera went 19th to Anaheim, while incoming recruits Trevor Lewis (F, 17th, Los Angeles) and Chris Summers (D, 29th, Phoenix) were both also first round selections.

10 American-born players went in the first round, the most ever. The only country with more players chosen in the first 30 picks this year was Canada (11).

In total, 68 college players or recruits were selected among the draft's 213 picks, nearly one-third. That number does not include several uncommitted draftees from U.S. high schools and junior teams who could still wind up playing in college — and some recruits could opt to skip school altogether.

After Minnesota's eight draftees, fellow WCHA members Denver (5) and 2006 NCAA champion Wisconsin (4) led all college programs, along with CCHA schools Michigan and Michigan State, and Hockey East's Boston University, also with four each.

Five other schools — Colgate, Harvard, North Dakota, Ohio State and St. Cloud — each had three selected.

The WCHA, buoyed by the strong showing from Minnesota, Denver and Wisconsin, led all NCAA Division I conferences with 26 players or recruits chosen. The CCHA was second with 17, while Hockey East had 14 selected and the ECACHL had 11.

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