The Tri-City Americans had two players selected in the first round of the NHL Draft on Friday for the first time since 1996.
Forward Michael Rasmussen was selected ninth overall by the Detroit Red Wings, with Finnish defenseman Juuso Välimäki going 16th overall to the Calgary Flames.
“They’re a historic franchise,” Rasmussen told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s an amazing place to develop and play. It was one of my hopes I would go to Detroit and that I would be lucky enough they would pick me. It turned out to be a good day.”
The Americans have not had a first-round NHL draft pick since goalie Chet Pickard went 18th overall to Nashville in 2008.
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Rasmussen also is the highest drafted player since Carey Price was taken fifth overall in 2005 by Montreal.
In 1996, Dan Focht went to Phoenix (11th overall), while Jaroslav Svejkovsky was taken by Washington with the 17th overall pick.
“I’m proud of both of those kids,” Tri-City general manager Bob Tory said. “We are fortunate to have them. These players are committed to their careers. They worked extremely hard off the ice and put in the work behind the scenes. To have two in the first round is pretty special, and I hope the Tri-City fans embrace that. They deserve the support.”
Rasmussen, a native of Surrey, British Columbia, is the first Tri-City forward drafted since 2010, when Brooks Macek went in the sixth round (171st overall) to the Detroit Red Wings. He’s also the first Americans forward to go in the first round since Scott Gomez went 27th overall to the New Jersey Devils in 1998.
Stu Barnes is the franchise’s highest-drafted forward — and player — going fourth overall in 1989 to the Winnipeg Jets.
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Rasmussen scored 32 goals (15 on the power play) with 23 assists in 50 games before knee and wrist injuries derailed his season in February.
Välimäki, a native of Nokia, Finland, is the first Tri-City defenseman taken in the first round since Shawn Belle went 30th overall to the St. Louis Blues in 2003.
“It feels amazing,” Välimäki said in an interview with the Calgary Flames. “It’s the best moment of my life so far.”
The 6-foot-2, 211-pound Välimäki scored 19 goals and had 42 assists in 60 games last season. He also played for Finland at the World Junior Championship.
Välimäki is the third Tri-City player the Flames have drafted over the years. They took Patrick Holland in the seventh round (193rd) in 2010 and Matt Schneider in the seventh round (200th) in 2004.
The Americans and the Portland Winterhawks were the only two teams with more than one player chosen in the first round. For Portland, Cody Glass went sixth to Las Vegas, and Henri Jokiharju 29th to Chicago.
Tri-City Americans First-Round NHL Draft Picks
2017 — Michael Rasmussen (9th, Detroit); Juuso Välimäki (16th, Calgary)
2008 — Chet Pickard (18th, Nashville)
2005 — Carey Price (5th, Montreal)
2003 — Shawn Belle (30th, St. Louis)
1998 — Scott Gomez (27th, New Jersey)
1996 — Dan Focht (11th, Phoenix); Jaroslav Svejkovsky (17th, Washington)
1995 — Daymond Langkow (5th, Tampa Bay); Terry Ryan (8th, Montreal); Brian Boucher (22nd, Philadelphia)
1992 — Jason Bowen (15th, Philadelphia)
1989 — Stu Barnes (4th, Winnipeg); Olie Kolzig (19th, Washington)