The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 2, 2013

MSU draft picks prove that nothing is guaranteed


The Mankato Free Press

---- — With the selection of goaltender Stephon Williams by the New York Islanders in Sunday's National Hockey League draft, Minnesota State will have four NHL draft picks on its roster next year.

The list includes Williams and forwards Teddy Blueger, Max Gaede and Zach Stepan.

That's not a huge number compared to programs like Minnesota and North Dakota but nonetheless a nice feather for the Mavericks.

The last time MSU had that many draft choices playing was in 2004-05 when David Backes, Travis Morin, Chad Brownlee and Jake Brenk skated together on the Verizon Wireless Center ice.

Backes is the only one from that group to have NHL success, starring for the St. Louis Blues with whom he's the team captain and makes a cool $4.5 million a year. Morin has played just three games in the NHL but has carved out an excellent career one step down in the American Hockey League. Injuries kept Brownlee from making it to the Vancover Canucks, but he would have been a first-round pick if the Canadian country music industry had a draft. Brenk bounced around the minors and various European leagues before becoming a pro-hockey official.

That '04-05 team also had Ryan Carter and Steve Wagner on the roster. While undrafted, both players eventually signed free-agent contracts with NHL teams. Carter has since played nearly 300 NHL games with four teams, most recently the New Jersey Devils, and remains the only MSU alum to get his name on the Stanley Cup. Wagner played 46 games at the top level.

As for other draft picks with MSU ties, only Tim Jackman and Jon Kalinski have made it to the NHL. Jackman has settled in to a nice career. He's played for five NHL teams since 2003, spending the last three seasons as a tough guy for the Calgary Flames. He's approaching 400 career games. Kalinski has played in just 22 NHL games.

Andrew Sackrison and Justin Jokinen didn't make it to the show, while there's still hope for 21-year-old Tyler Pitlick, the highest draft pick with MSU ties (31st overall). He just finished his second season in the AHL.

It all goes to show that you never know how things will turn out for draft picks — or for their teams.

The last Minnesota State team with four draft picks won just 13 games. Last year's team won a Division I-era best 24 games with just two draft picks, Blueger and Gaede, although Williams was the goalie and senior Eriah Hayes signed a free-agent deal with the San Jose Sharks just days after the season ended.

On Monday, Williams said getting drafted and having that NHL affiliation doesn't change anything for him in regards to the upcoming season with the Mavericks.

"I look at it the same as this (past) year," he said. "I'm going to work as hard as I can and compete the best I can. ... The team has shared some goals, and it's going to take hard work."

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.