CHICAGO – Three players of color took center stage at the 2017 National Hockey League Draft at Chicago’s United Center Friday night.
Two major junior hockey players of Asian heritage and a black French-Canadian player were chosen in the first round of the 31-team draft. And Ryan Reaves, a pugnacious veteran forward, was traded by the St. Louis Blues to the Pittsburgh Penguins, a move that capped the first day of the draft.
Thirteen proved to be a lucky number for Nick Suzuki, a forward for the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League. He was taken with the 13th pick in the draft by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
“It’s not every day you get picked by an expansion team,” Suzuki said after he had his named called and donned the fledgling Golden Knights’ jersey. “I’m really happy about being picked by Vegas and I want to get there pretty quick and see the new building.”
Suzuki was ranked as the 10th-best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. The 5-foot-10 native of London, Ontario, was Owen Sound’s second-leading scorer last season with 45 goals and 51 assists in 65 games.
His younger brother, forward Ryan Suzuki, was the first player chosen in the 2017 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection Draft in April, plucked by the Barrie Colts.
Nick Suzuki said he has no worries about joining a new NHL team that’s bound to have more losses than wins in its first few seasons.
“I don’t think I’m nervous,” he said. “I’m more excited to see what Vegas is like. I don’t know if there’s pressure. I kind of just take it as a new team and you have to show them that you’re a good player.”
Kailer Yamamoto is looking forward to someday playing with Edmonton Oilers snipers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl after Edmonton selected Yamamoto, a forward with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs, with the 22nd pick of the draft.
“I’m really looking forward to going to that skill team,” Yamamoto said. “I think it’s going to definitely benefit my game.”
The 5-foot-7, 140-pound right wing was listed as the 17th-best North American skater by Central Scouting.
A Spokane native of Japanese and Hawaiian heritage, Yamamoto led the Chiefs in scoring in 2016-17 with 42 goals and 47 assists in 65 games. His older brother, Keanu, was Spokane’s fourth-leading scorer last season with 26 goals and 43 assists in 72 games.
“My dad’s dad, he’s from Japan actually, he was in the internment camps,” Kailer Yamamoto said. “My dad’s half Japanese so that makes me a quarter Japanese. It’s unbelievable to be Japanese, get the Japanese heritage, and hopefully be in the NHL someday.”
Right after Yamamoto had his name called, defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph was chosen with the 23nd pick of the draft by the Arizona Coyotes.
Joseph patrolled the blue line last season for the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he had 6 goals and 33 assists in 62 games.
Joseph wasn’t a stranger to the spectacle and hype of draft day. He watched his older brother, forward Mathieu Joseph of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, get drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fourth round in 2015.
Still, the younger Joseph – who was ranked as the 27th-best North American skater eligible for the draft by Central Scouting – admitted to having a case of the jitters on Friday.
“Obviously, I didn’t want to think about the draft,” he said. “I played cards and watched movies as the day goes on, but as I sat in the stands and watched the names go by, I was thinking whether I’d get called or not.”
He credited his older brother and his parents for helping him achieve his draft day moment.
“I was a bit of an underdog,” Joseph said. “Obviously, I had my brother and my family to push me. Everyone has been there for me to push me and make me the player I am now.”
Thanks to Evan Moore for contributing to this report.
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