It was a great NHL Draft weekend for current and future members of the Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team. Seven Gophers were selected over the seven rounds of the draft, the second highest total of any NCAA school. The seven draft picks are the fourth most in program history behind the nine selections in 2007 and the eight selections in both 2006 and 2000. The Gophers now have had a player selected in 45 of the last 46 drafts with only 2001 as the outlier.
The Gophers saw their draft kicked off when incoming freshman defenseman Ryan Johnson was selected by the Buffalo Sabres with the 31st overall pick in the first round. Johnson became the 21st Gopher selected in the first round of the NHL draft, and the first one since Casey Mittelstadt in 2017. The Irvine, California native is the son of former Gopher Craig Johnson who played from 1990-1993. The Johnson’s are now the sixth father/son duo to play for the Gophers who have both been selected in the NHL Draft.
Johnson spent the 2018-19 season playing for Sioux Falls in the USHL and helping lead the Stampede to the Clark Cup Championship. Johnson is now the 11th Gopher to be selected by the Sabres and the sixth to be selected in the first round along with Casey Mittelstadt (2017), Thomas Vanek (2003), Keith Ballard (2002), Erik Rasmussen (1996) and Mike Ramsey (1979).
The future Gopher defenseman train continued in the second round when incoming freshman Jackson LaCombe was selected with the 39th overall pick by the Anaheim Ducks. The Eden Prairie native played for Shattuck- St. Mary’s and earned All-USA Boys Hockey First Team honors after setting a Shattuck-St. Mary’s record for points by a defenseman with 89 last season. He is now the fifth Gopher in program history selected by the Ducks.
The Sabres added a second Gopher in the fourth round when Roseau native Aaron Huglen was selected with pick #102. Huglen is a forward and is the first future Gopher selected who will not be in Dinkytown this fall instead playing for the Fargo Force in the USHL next season, and most likely beginning his Gopher career in 2020.
When the Montreal Canadiens selected Rhett Pitlick in the fifth round with selection #131, it added both another father/son and a brother/brother pair to Gopher draft lore. Pitlick joins his dad Lance Pitlick as players who will wear the M who were selected in the NHL Draft. He also joins brother Rem who left the Gophers after his junior season last spring to join the Nashville Predators. The Pitlick’s now become both the seventh father/son and brother/brother combination. Rhett will not suit up for the Gophers until most likely the 2020-21 season and will split time between Chaska High school and the Omaha Lancers in the USHL next season.
The defenseman lineup returned later in the fifth round when the Toronto Maple Leafs selected incoming Gopher freshman Mike Koster with the 146th overall selection. The Chaska native completed his high school career by leading the state in scoring by a defenseman with 20 goals and 41 assists and earned All-USA Boys Hockey First Team honors.
The only current Gopher to hear his name called was defenseman Ben Brinkman who was selected by the 173rd overall pick in the sixth round by the Dallas Stars. He played in all 38 games last season as a freshman scoring one goal and adding six assists. Brinkman is the 24th Gopher selected by the Stars which is the highest total of any NHL team.
The final Gopher selection came in the seventh round when incoming freshman forward Bryce Brodzinski was selected with the 196th overall pick by the Philadelphia Flyers. Brodzinski was the 2019 Minnesota Mr. Hockey award winner playing for Blaine High School. He also was named the All-USA Boys Hockey Player of the Year and an All-USA Boys Hockey First Team selection by scoring 36 goals and 55 assists. He now joins his brother Michael as the eighth set of Gopher brothers to be selected in the NHL Draft.
The five drafted Gophers who will be on the team this fall will begin their season in October 6th in an exhibition game against Mount Royal University.