Once the whirlwind of the two-day, seven-round 2016 National Hockey League Draft was complete, five players of color or minority ethnic heritage were selected, including the Number One overall pick.
Here’s a Color of Hockey snapshot of the five player chosen.
The Toronto Maple Leafs surprised no one and took forward Auston Matthews with the first pick. You want diversity? Matthews is it. The son of a Mexican mother and a California dad, Matthews began playing hockey in Arizona, a state that is slowly gaining a reputation for the sport beyond the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.
“I think it’s been great not only for Arizona, but the whole southwestern region,” said of his selection. “It’s continuing to grow, and it’s just cool to be a part of it.”
That’s a heavy burden for a 18-year-old to carry, especially in the hockey pressure-cooker that is Toronto. But at 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, Matthews can shoulder the load.
He already has pro hockey experience, having played last season for the ZSC Lions in Switzerland’s top league. He scored 24 goals and 22 assists in 36 games regular season games for the Lions and had 3 assists in four playoff games.
Matthews also played for the United States in 2015-16, tallying 7 goals and 4 assists in 7 games of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Championship and 6 goals and 3 assists in the IIHF World Championship.
The Detroit Red Wings took right wing Givani Smith of the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm in the draft’s second round with the 46th overall pick. The 6-foot-1, 216-pound forward was second on the Storm in scoring in 2015-16 with 23 goals and 19 assists in 65 regular season games.Smith said his game is similar to the way rugged Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds plays.
“The way he plays his game, he a force on the ice,” Smith said. “He scores goals right in front of the net, and that’s where I like to score. He’s a good skater, he finishes checks, and he’s not scared to fight.”
Right wing Cliff Pu of the OHL’s London Knights didn’t have to go far to check out the facilities and offices of the team that drafted him. He was taken by the Buffalo Sabres, host of this year’s draft, in the third round with the 69th overall pick.On a star-studded team Knights team, Pu scored 12 goals and 19 assists in 63 regular season games. However, the 6-foot-1, 185-forward was a scoring machine in the OHL playoffs with 8 goals and 5 assists in 18 games.
Pu said he’s proud to be drafted by the Sabres, but he’s even prouder of his parents who moved to Canada from China. Pu’s father, Jun, arrived when he was 25. His wife joined him a year later.
“Coming over from a different country isn’t easy, and he came over with a few hundred bucks in his pocket,” Cliff Pu told reporters. “I’m really proud of him.”
The Sabres have been one of the NHL’s more aggressive teams when it comes to drafting or signing minority players. They drafted right wing Justin Bailey – second round, 52nd overall – and right wing Nick Baptiste – third round, 69th overall – in 2013. The organization signed left wing Evan Rodrigues, a former Boston University star, in 2015.
The Maple Leafs nabbed U.S.-born defenseman James “J.D.” Greenway in the draft’s third round with the 72nd overall pick. A member of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, the 18-year-old 6-foot-4, 205-pound New York native had 5 goals and 23 assists in 68 games for the U.S. National Under-18 team.Greenway is the newest member of the NHL Draft’s black brothers brotherhood. His older brother, Jordan Greenway, was a second-round, 50th overall pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2015.
In addition, there’s the Smith brothers – Givani, who was drafted earlier on Saturday, and Gemel, a 2012 Dallas Stars fourth round pick, the 104th overall.
And the Jones boys – Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones, first round, 4th overall in 2013 by the Nashville Predators; defenseman Caleb Jones, fourth round, 117th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015.
And, of course, there’s the Subban clan – defenseman P.K, Montreal Canadiens, second round, 43rd overall in 2007; goaltender Malcolm, Boston Bruins, first round, 24th overall in 2012; and defenseman Jordan, Vancouver Canucks, fourth round, 115th overall in 2013.
Peterborough Petes center Jonathan Ang admitted that he didn’t actually hear his name called when the Florida Panthers took him in the fourth round with the 94th overall pick. He was taking a bathroom break at the time.
But that didn’t diminish the thrill of being picked or the history he likely made. Ang is probably the first player of Malaysian heritage to be drafted by an NHL team.
He finished fourth on the OHL Petes in scoring in 2015-16 with 21 goals and 28 assists in 68 games.
The 5-11, 160-pound Ang led the Petes in playoff scoring, tallying 3 goals and 6 assists in seven games with one playoff game-winning goal.