For 4 incoming University of Minnesota freshmen, Sunday was a day they will not forget. Each was drafted by an NHL team.
Tommy Vannelli, Taylor Cammarata, Hudson Fasching and Michael Brodzinski all heard their names called during the 2013 NHL Draft held at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. It is the fifth straight year that 3 or more players with Gopher ties have been drafted.
(Additionally, assistant coach Mike Guentzel's son Jake was drafted 77th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jake, who was drafted 58 spots above his father, is headed to University of Nebraska-Omaha.)
While Minnesota did not have a player go in the first round for the third time in the past eight Drafts (2008 and 2011 were the others), Vannelli went soon after. The 6'2" defenseman was selected in the second round (47th overall) by the St. Louis Blues.
"(My interviews with St. Louis) went well. I interviewed with them a few times," Vannelli said Sunday after being the top defenseman with Minnesota ties drafted. "I kind of had an idea they'd take me but it's just good to hear your name called."
Vannelli spent this season playing for both Minnetonka (HS-MN), leading the Skippers blue line with 31 points (8 G-21 A) in 25 games, and the US-Under 18 team at the World U-18 Championship. His development over the past year has been impressive as Vannelli turned into one of the best skaters in the entire draft.
The Minnetonka, MN native will get a chance to continue to develop at the University of Minnesota, where one of the players Vannelli models his game after - Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy - spent a year.
"I'm really excited," he said about heading to Minnesota. "We started classes a couple weeks ago, we're working out there and everything. It's been good so far.
"I really like the coaching staff. Mike Guentzel, the defensive coach there, I think he's going to help round off my game. He's a big reason why I came (to Minnesota)."
The New York Islanders chose the third University of Minnesota player since Kyle Okposo left the program in the middle of the 2007-08 season (Aaron Ness in 2008 and Jake Bischoff in 2012 are the others) when Islanders GM Garth Snow used the 76th overall pick in the third round to draft Taylor Cammarata.
Normally a player with Cammarata's stats - 93 points (38 G-55 A) in 59 regular-season games - would have gone earlier. In fact, his performance in Waterloo playing with fellow incoming Gopher Justin Kloos and Minnesota State incoming freshman Zach Stepan (Nashville Predators) was the second-best point total in league history. His size (5'7", 157 lbs) and spending more time playing on the perimeter scared teams wondering if the Plymouth, MN native could continue his offense at the NHL level.
That doesn't seem to bother Gopher head coach Don Lucia, however.
"Taylor has things you can't teach," said Lucia about his freshman forward. "He's got a terrific set of hands, can pass, can create offense. He's pretty strong right now, but it will be interesting to see how far he can come with added work off ice. He's a guy who will certainly benefit from playing college hockey."
His size didn't bother the Islanders either. Despite Cammarata being left off NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings, Snow was more than willing to spend a third round pick, six slots after picking Waterloo goalie Eamon McAdam, on Taylor.
It was just as surprising to see Cammarata be picked that high as it was for Hudson Fasching to drop as far as he did. The Burnsville, MN native was once touted to be a top-ten pick after his freshman year of high school. Since then, his draft stock fell to where Fasching was the 77th-ranked NA player by NHL Central Scouting and eventually taken late in the 4th round (118th overall) by the Los Angeles Kings.
"He's still young, but we hope (Fasching) can play a prominent role for us right away," Lucia said. "We'll continue to work with him to make sure he's playing that role of a power forward and using his size to his advantage."
Like Seth Ambroz, another Minnesota player who fell to the middle rounds after being touted as a top pick early on, the 6'3", 214 lbs Fasching has size. The 17 year-old is a power forward, scoring 33 points with the US National Development Team, and has future potential as our own Chris Dilks notes.
How Fasching responds to dropping to the fourth round - a chip on his shoulder or an indictment of the future - remains to be seen.
Finally, incoming freshman defenseman Mike Brodzinski was the first Gopher drafted by San Jose since Jay Barriball in 2006 when the Sharks selected him 141st overall. Brodzinski, a Blaine, MN native, spent last season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL) where his 16 goals were the most by a USHL defenseman in 3 years.
One reason for that is his shot.
"That's the first thing you notice about him," Lucia said about Brodzinski. "He has a very low panic point with the puck, so we know we'll be able to put him in positions like the point on the power play."
Mike wasn't the only Brodzinski picked in the fifth round. Older brother Jonny, who scored 22 goals as a freshman to help lead St. Cloud State to its first Frozen Four, was taken just 7 picks later by the Los Angeles Kings. The closeness of the two - the first time 2 non-twin brothers have been picked in the same NHL Draft - made for an interesting scene for the 15 people over to watch.
"It was crazy because Michael went right before that and everyone was still freaking out about that one," said Jonny to Mick Hatten of the St. Cloud Times. "Then everyone went nuts when I got picked. It was a very special moment for me and my brother."
Still, younger brother Mike does have one bragging right.
With the four new draftees, Minnesota has now had 190 players selected in the NHL Draft in the program's history.
Jeff Cox contributed to this report.
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