2 years after being drafted, local hockey players making name for themselves
That historical weekend in Minnesota during which four Pittsburghers were selected among the first 64 players picked in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft was just the beginning.
Two years later, all are ahead of schedule.
“It's pretty incredible that we all went that high and that things have turned out the way they have,” Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad said.
They could be on their way to stardom.
Saad currently is the headliner. He will be fitted for a Stanley Cup ring this summer. He finished third in Calder Trophy voting for Rookie of the Year and Saturday joined Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau and Montreal's Brendan Gallagher as forwards on the NHL's all-rookie team.
Saad finished with 10 goals and 27 points in his rookie campaign and has become a fixture on a team that figures to contend for many more Stanley Cups.
“That was so awesome for him,” goaltender John Gibson said.
He isn't the only of the Pittsburgh Four to appear to be on the verge of big things.
Gibson likely will begin working his way through the Anaheim system this fall. In the past six months, he twice has starred on the international stage for Team USA: He was the backbone of the World Junior championship claimed in January, and he performed admirably against numerous NHL stars while claiming a bronze medal in May's World Championships.
“You always want to get to the NHL as fast as you can, but I try not to think about it that way,” Gibson said. “You just try to take it day by day. And, yeah, playing in the Worlds, especially beating Russia, was big. Getting to play against guys like (Alex) Ovechkin was great for me.”
Center Vince Trocheck also could find himself in the NHL during the 2013-14 season. The Florida Panthers opted to leave Trocheck in the Ontario Hockey League this past season, and he responded by claiming the scoring title and league MVP.
The Panthers have made it clear that they are fond of the third-round selection and believe there will be a place for him in the NHL.
“I'm happy with the year I had,” Trocheck said. “I'm really excited about the future.”
J.T. Miller, the first of the four to be drafted, made his debut with the Rangers and could be on his way to a strong career. He scored two goals in his second NHL game and showed flashes of someone who could become notable for his goal scoring and physical play.
A few months before the Rangers dismissed John Tortorella, the fiery coach was asked about Miller by reporters at Consol Energy Center.
Tortorella isn't one to freely dish compliments, but he praised Miller.
“He's an interesting one,” Tortorella said. “He's got a chance to be really good.”
Tortorella could have been speaking about any of the four who altered Pittsburgh youth hockey.
All could be in the NHL as soon as next season.
“We're all friends, and we all keep in touch,” Gibson said. “We're all really proud to have come from Pittsburgh and proud of what we've done so far.”
Gibson hopes this is only the beginning, not only for his fellow members of the 2011 draft but also for youth hockey in Western Pennsylvania.
“Hopefully,” he said, “the kids coming behind us keep this going.”