Photo courtesy: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Over the weekend, the National Hockey League held its annual entry draft. Coming into the weekend, the University of Denver hockey program had a player drafted in 14 straight years. On Friday night, when the Florida Panthers selected incoming freshman Henrik Borgström with the 23rd overall pick in the first round, that streak was extended to 15.
“We are very excited to have selected Henrik with our first round pick,” Panthers General Manager Tom Rowe said in a team release. “He is a big, exciting and highly skilled player that has had a strong season with the HIFK Jr. team overseas in Finland. He is heading to a strong program at the University of Denver that well help further his development. We look forward to his continued growth and contributions to our team and the South Florida community.”
On Saturday, two more Pioneers were drafted in the later rounds. Dylan Gambrell, center of the vaunted Pacific Rim Line in 2015-16, was drafted at the end of the second round (60th overall) by the San Jose Sharks. Defenseman Blake Hillman was taken in the 6th round (173rd overall) by the Chicago Blackhawks. On top of scoring the game-winning goal against Ferris State to send the Pioneers to the Frozen Four, Hillman earned Most Oustanding Player honors in the NCAA West Regional.
Leading up to the draft, interest in Borgström was high as many teams had him slotted anywhere from 20-40 and there was some speculation that he’d sneak into the late first round. The Anaheim Ducks had a significant amount of interest in the Finnish forward and may have taken him with the 24th pick if the Sharks hadn’t grabbed him at 23,
Interest in Gambrell was quite high as well. Throughout the season, scouts with both the St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins were seen at games to watch Gambrell specifically.
Combined with the early departure of Danton Heinen and the graduation of Quentin Shore, the Pioneers now have 6 NHL draftees on their roster in Borgström, Gambrell, Hillman, G Evan Cowley (Florida Panthers), D Will Butcher (Colorado Avalanche), and F Troy Terry (Anaheim Ducks).
Coincidentally, DU’s 15-year streak of having at least a player drafted by an NHL team coincides with their NCAA-best 15 straight seasons with at least 20 victories. During this stretch, there have been 41 different Pioneers drafted.
Stay tuned to LetsGoDU throughout the offseason as we will continue to cover the hockey team’s incoming recruiting class and preview the 2016-17 season.