Back in the thick of things in the U.S. Division following a 41-win season, the Tri-City Americans capped off a campaign of progress with several young standouts rewarded at the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago.
The franchise had two players chosen in the first round for the first time since 1996 as star centreman Michael Rasmussen donned red and white after hearing his name called ninth overall by the Detroit Red Wings. Finnish rearguard Juuso Valimaki followed seven picks later, slipping a different shade of red onto his chest as the Calgary Flames took him with the 16th overall selection.
Good friends who live together during the season, Rasmussen and Valimaki both thrived under the coaching of Mike Williamson.
“I couldn’t ask for a better place to play than Tri-City,” said Rasmussen, the club’s first round (7th overall) pick in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft. “The management, coaches and teammates make it a great place to be and I’m lucky to be a part of something like that.”
Rasmussen recorded 32 goals, 23 assists and 55 points over 50 games before suffering a fractured wrist that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
“It was one of my hopes that I could go to Detroit and be lucky enough for them to pick me,” added the 6-foot-6, 215Ib. centreman. “We had a really good combine meeting and it was in my mind that this was really a place that I wanted to go to and it’s a dream come true.”
Rasmussen’s roommate, Valimaki wrapped up his second WHL campaign with 19 goals, 42 assists and 61 points in 60 games while also representing Finland at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Montreal and Toronto.
“My goal is to play in the NHL and the best way for me to get there is to play in the WHL,” the Finnish rearguard said of his experience over the past two seasons. “There’s a lot of games and a lot of ice time and I haven’t regretted the decision for a second.”
Valimaki joins a Calgary defence corps that currently includes a number of CHL graduates in captain Mark Giordano (Owen Sound Attack), Dougie Hamilton (Niagara IceDogs), T.J. Brodie (Saginaw Spirit/Barrie Colts), Travis Hamonic (Moose Jaw Warriors/Brandon Wheat Kings) and Michael Stone (Calgary Hitmen).
“They have really good defencemen there and they do a good job developing them,” he added. “I think I’ll fit in very well.”
35-goal scorer Morgan Geekie would go in the third round (67th overall) to the Carolina Hurricanes before right winger Kyle Olson was taken in the fourth round (122nd overall) by the Anaheim Ducks, giving Tri-City a total of four players chosen, the most by the franchise since 2004.
“These are special kids,” longtime Americans general manager Bob Tory told Annie Fowler of the Tri-City Herald. “I’m so excited for them to have these opportunities. Hopefully the Tri-City fans realize the talent we have and come out and support and embrace the team.”
The Americans joined the U.S. Division rival Portland Winterhawks as the only other CHL club to have two players chosen in the first round. They joined Portland and the OHL’s Guelph Storm, Hamilton Bulldogs and London Knights as one of four teams with four players selected.
With Rasmussen, Valimaki, Geekie, Olson and other contributors in defenceman Dylan Coghlan, veteran winger Parker AuCoin and newly added forward Isaac Johnson slated into the Tri-City depth chart for 2017-18, the Americans are eager to get back at it this fall with a big season ahead.
WHL Players Selected in the 2017 NHL Draft:
(Click on a player to watch post-draft interview)
First Round (7 WHL Players):
2. Nolan Patrick (Brandon Wheat Kings) – Philadelphia Flyers
6. Cody Glass (Portland Winterhawks) – Vegas Golden Knights
9. Michael Rasmussen (Tri-City Americans) – Detroit Red Wings
14. Cal Foote (Kelowna Rockets) – Tampa Bay Lightning
16. Juuso Valimaki (Tri-City Americans) – Calgary Flames
22. Kailer Yamamoto (Spokane Chiefs) – Edmonton Oilers
29. Henri Jokiharju (Portland Winterhawks) – Chicago Blackhawks
Second Round (5 WHL Players):
33. Kole Lind (Kelowna Rockets) – Vancouver Canucks
40. Aleksi Heponiemi (Swift Current Broncos) – Florida Panthers
41. Jared Anderson-Dolan (Spokane Chiefs) – Los Angeles Kings
56. Josh Brook (Moose Jaw Warriors) – Montreal Canadiens)
62. Jake Leschyshyn (Regina Pats) – Vegas Golden Knights
Third Round (6 WHL Players):
67. Morgan Geekie (Tri-City Americans) – Carolina Hurricanes
68. Scott Walford (Victoria Royals) – Montreal Canadiens
73. Stelio Mattheos (Brandon Wheat Kings) – Carolina Hurricanes
78. Stuart Skinner (Lethbridge Hurricanes) – Edmonton Oilers
79. Lane Zablocki (Red Deer Rebels) – Detroit Red Wings
87. Cale Fleury (Kootenay ICE) – Montreal Canadiens
Fourth Round (5 WHL Players):
94. Nick Henry (Regina Pats) – Colorado Avalanche
97. Mason Shaw (Medicine Hat Tigers) – Minnesota Wild
98. Nikita Popugaev (Prince George Cougars) – New Jersey Devils
110. Ian Scott (Prince Albert Raiders) – Toronto Maple Leafs
122. Kyle Olson (Tri-City Americans) – Anaheim Ducks
Fifth Round (3 WHL Players):
128. Tyler Steenbergen (Swift Current Broncos) – Arizona Coyotes
140. Zach Fischer (Medicine Hat Tigers) – Calgary Flames
149. Jarret Tyszka (Seattle Thunderbirds) – Montreal Canadiens
Sixth Round (4 WHL Players):
159. Jacob McGrew (Spokane Chiefs) – San Jose Sharks
163. Brett Davis (Kootenay ICE) – Dallas Stars
166. Brendan De Jong (Portland Winterhawks) – Carolina Hurricanes
183. Jordan Hollett (Medicine Hat Tigers) – Ottawa Senators
Seventh Round (3 WHL Players):
194. Dylan Ferguson (Kamloops Blazers) – Dallas Stars
198. Skyler McKenzie (Portland Winterhawks) – Winnipeg Jets
204. Daniel Bukac (Brandon Wheat Kings) – Boston Bruins