Bettman confirms NHL draft set for Pittsburgh
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed today the league's annual entry draft will be held June 22-23 at Consol Energy Center.
The Tribune-Review on Tuesday first reported that Pittsburgh would play host to its second NHL draft and first since 1997 at Civic Arena.
"Let my start by formally confirming something I believe you've already figured out,"• said Bettman, standing in front of a banner with the draft's official emblem, which in style similar to the 2011 Winter Classic logo prominently displays a bridge.
Round 1 of the NHL draft will be held June 22 at 7 p.m., with remaining rounds starting at 10 a.m. June 23.
Bettman was joined by NHL chief operating officer John Collins, Penguins CEO David Morehouse and team general manager Ray Shero, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl at the news conference at Consol Energy Center.
A handful of local youth hockey players, each donning the jersey of their respective team -- hinting at the projected theme for the upcoming draft -- also attended.
In making the announcement, Bettman cited statistics confirming Pittsburgh's standing as hockey town:
-- Twenty-four ice rinks in Pittsburgh today compared to six that existed before the Penguins drafted current majority co-owner Mario Lemieux with the first overall pick in 1984;
-- A 26 percent increase in amateur hockey participation throughout the region since the Penguins selected captain Sidney Crosby with the first overall pick in 2005;
-- A 61 percent increase in youth players aged 5 to 8 years old;
-- A 17 percent increase in USA Hockey players from Pittsburgh in the 8-and-under age group, up to about 105,000;
-- Twenty-seven Pittsburgh-born and/or trained youth players currently on NCAA Division I men's teams and five in NCAA Division I women's hockey;
A point Bettman didn't make but one Morehouse was quick to mention:
-- Four Pittsburgh-born prospects were chosen at the draft in June, including three among the first 43 picks: J.T. Miller (15th overall, New York Rangers); John Gibson (39th overall, Anaheim Ducks); Brandon Saad (43rd overall, Chicago Blackhawks); and Vincent Trocheck (64th overall, Florida Panthers). Saad began this NHL season with the Blackhawks before he was returned to his junior club.
The 2012 season isn't projected to produce as many top-end Pittsburgh products, but it will mark the biggest pre-planned summer sporting event to hit the region since the 2006 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
"This city has hosted big NHL events before,"• Bettman said, noting January's Winter Classic between the Penguins and Washington Capitals at Heinz Field and the 1997 NHL draft, which produced such current stars as Joe Thornton, Marian Hossa and Roberto Luongo in the first round.
Morehouse, who spoke at the news conference, reminded Bettman that Pittsburgh played host to the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Final series, the latter of which the Penguins won.
Shero, an assistant general manager with Nashville when the Predators played host to the 2003 draft, playfully said “no comment” regarding the possibility of his Penguins picking last on Day 1.
Barring a trade, the last slot in Round 1 is reserved for the reigning Cup champion, who will have been crowned about a week before the draft.
Shero surely wouldn't mind a quick turnaround that goes with winning the Cup and taking aim at the draft.
"There are really three main events for hockey (operations) people,"• Shero said, noting that 350 scouts will attend the draft. "The draft in June, a week later free agency on July 1 and the trade deadline -- and with the draft you get seven picks, sometimes more, sometimes less, but it's the only time you get anything for free."
Shero described the draft as a "franchise saver"• for the Penguins, who many within the hockey community believe wouldn't have remained in Pittsburgh if not for the two momentum boosts provided by the drafting of Lemieux and Crosby.
The Penguins bid on the 2012 draft last season and were considered a near immediate favorites to land the event. Tampa was also a contender.
Morehouse said the Penguins will "continue to be vocal"• with Bettman while lobbying for an NHL All-Star Game, which was last played in Pittsburgh in 1990 at Civic Arena. Morehouse said the draft being held in Pittsburgh made a possible 2013 All-Star Game at Consol Energy Center unlikely.
The Penguins turned the week before the Winter Classic into a winter carnival/hockey celebration, including erecting an outdoor rink next to Heinz Field that featured games between local youth teams.
"One thing we're looking at doing is a hosting a tournament for teams from around the country, a spring (youth hockey) tournament in Pittsburgh,"• Morehouse said.
Consol Energy Center, which opened in August 2010, will have a busy 2012 on the sporting landscape. The arena will play host to Rounds 2 and 3 of the NCAA men's basketball tournament March 15-17.
The NHL draft could provide a financial windfall for the region, as large contingents of employees from the NHL's other 29 clubs, league officials, agents and draft-eligible players and their families will arrive in Pittsburgh the days leading up to the event.
Minnesota public officials estimated that the 2011 NHL draft, held at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, brought approximately $10 million to that region.
The Winter Classic brought $22 million in "direct spending" to the region, Morehouse said, citing information from VisitPittsburgh, which promotes tourism in Allegheny County. He said the projection for the NHL draft is $9.1 million.
Ravenstahl said the draft is free advertising for “a city that sells itself.”
"We're almost a year out, and people are already talking about it,"• he said. "This allows for people to plan to come to Pittsburgh."
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