Patch hockey scored big in the NHL draft Friday and Saturday.
Three of the four Pittsburgh-area players who were selected in the opening three rounds of the annual entry draft – held at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. – played for the AAA-level Pittsburgh Hornets, based at Robert Morris University's Island Sports Center.
The area’s frozen-surface four, believed to be the largest local group drafted so early in the NHL:
- J.T. Miller – Originally from East Palestine, OH, Miller and his family later moved to Coraopolis, where he rose in the hockey ranks. This 6-foot-1, 189-pound center became the 15th player chosen in the first round, by the New York Rangers. In so doing, he became the highest Pittsburgh draftee in NHL history, eclipsing by one spot the No. 16 overall selection of R.J. Umberger of Plum – and also the Hornets by way of Ohio State University – by the Vancouver Canucks 10 years earlier. Miller played this past season for the U.S. 18-and-under national team, based in Ann Arbor, Mich. He ranked second on the team, with 26 assists and third with 37 points while it competed in the U.S. Hockey League, a Junior A division from which players arise to the NCAA or NHL ranks. Miller has committed to college hockey power North Dakota, but his NHL stock zoomed after he helped the U.S. team erase a two-goal deficit to win the gold medal at the 18-and-under International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships. Miller scored four goals and 13 points in that tournament and was named one of Team USA’s top three players.
- Brandon Saad – He powered Pine-Richland to a Penguins Cup championship as a freshman alongside his elder brother George, then left to play his hockey wares elsewhere, as happens with most local top-tier talent. This 6-1, 208-pound left wing was drafted No. 43 overall, in the second round, by the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. After playing with Miller and goaltender John Gibson on the Hornets, Saad played again with his brother George with the Mahoning Valley Phantoms in Youngstown, OH, becoming the North American Hockey League’s rookie of the year. From there he played a year with the U.S. 18-and-under national team based in Ann Arbor, and this past season played for the Saginaw Spirit of the prestigious Ontario Hockey League. He finished second on the team with 27 goals and scored 55 points. As did Miller, he played on the 2010 18-and-under championship team at the IIHF World Championships, but was among the final cuts on this year’s team.
- John Gibson – The goaltender once was cut from the Baldwin High program, but later played for the Highlanders while attending the school through 10th grade. He was selected by the Anaheim Ducks four picks ahead of Saad, at No. 39 overall. Gibson played for AAA Little Caesars in Detroit and then the 18-and-under national team based in Ann Arbor. This 6-3, 205-pound netminder was a key component of the 2011 gold-medal Team USA at those IIHF World Championships, winning consecutive overtime games against Canada and Sweden in the semifinals and finals. He was named the tournament’s top goaltender after compiling a 2.34 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. He has committed to the University of Michigan. “I’m excited, and I’m taking it all in,” Gibson told Patch by telephone while attending the draft with his parents and grandparents. He was the second goaltender taken in the draft, immediately after Sweden’s Magnus Hellberg was picked by Nashville.
- Vincent Trocheck – He left Upper St. Clair at age 13, and also played for the prestigious Little Caesars program before joining Saad with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit this year. This 5-10, 178-pound center ranked third on the Spirit, scoring 62 points in 68 games. He scored 26 goals in the regular season and six more for 11 points total in 12 OHL playoff games. He was rated the No. 41 North American prospect entering the draft, covering both forwards and defensemen from the United States and Canada. Trocheck is among the youngest players in the draft; he turns 18 on July 11, three days before Gibson.
Baldwin-Whitehall Patch Local Editor Robert Edward Healy, III, contributed.