Getting your name called during the NHL draft is every hockey player’s dream.
For three Tri-City Americans, that dream could come true this weekend. The first round of the NHL draft is Friday at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., while rounds 2-7 will take place Saturday.
Goaltender Evan Sarthou, forward Jordan Topping and defenseman Dylan Coghlan will be on the edge of their chairs awaiting news, but if their names aren’t called, it’s not the end of the line.
“The NHL draft is the goal and aspiration of everyone who comes into the league (Western Hockey League),” Americans general manager Bob Tory said. “It’s certainly an exciting time for them. We have had many great players who were never drafted. It’s a crapshoot.”
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Toronto has the first pick Friday, and the the Maple Leafs are expected to select center Auston Matthews, who played in Switzerland’s top professional league last year.
After a lull in which the Americans had one player — goalie Eric Comrie (2013) — drafted in three years, defensemen Brandon Carlo (second round, Boston Bruins) and Parker Wotherspoon (fourth, New York Islanders) were selected last year.
Sarthou, who backed Team USA to a gold medal at the 2015 U-18 championship, saw his stock drop from ninth to 12th in NHL Central Scouting rankings after the Americans had a less-than-stellar season and missed the playoffs.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Sarthou had a 26-28-2 record in 60 games. He had a 3.46 goals against average and a .888 save percentage and two shutouts while playing 3,295 minutes.
“It was disappointing to miss the playoffs for the first time in 12 years,” Sarthou said. “It’s disappointing for me and the team, but we have to put it behind us and come back better next year. The GMs and scouts are smart and know what to look for in players. I’ve talked to quite a few teams, but you are in the dark until you finally get picked.”
Sarthou also was named to participate in USA Hockey’s selection camp for the upcoming World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal, proving that his name still is on the radar.
“Getting named to that camp really helps him,” Tory said. “There were only four goalies invited.”
Topping, who is 176th in the rankings, didn’t even make the midseason chart, but an uptick in his scoring and solid play after Christmas put him on the radar.
The 6-1, 200-pounder from Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, was the Americans’ second-leading scorer last season with 33 goals and 67 points in 72 games. He had seven power-play goals, two short-handed and four game-winning goals.
“I had a good year, and I was fortunate to play with some pretty talented players,” Topping said. “In terms of my production, I was able to generate a bit more. When you are surrounded by guys like Parker (Bowles) and Tyler (Sandhu), that helps. We were just trying to win games.”
Topping is a strong player with good speed and a solid work ethic who may have been overlooked early on. His name has been tossed around a bit since the season ended, but there are no guarantees.
“I’ve had some interest,” Topping said. “I’m just not looking into anything too much. It’s going to be a fun process. I’ll just see how it goes. There are guys who don’t get drafted and end up in good positions.”
The 6-3, 190-pound Coghlan was ranked 155th in the final rankings, moving up from 177 in the midterm report. A no-frills, stay-at-home defender, he worked his way into the top four with steady play, solid passing and the ability to read the oncoming attack.
“It’s nice to have that kind of recognition from those kind of people,” Coghlan said. “They give me more hope that I could possibly go on Saturday. It’s crazy to think I could potentially get drafted. Even a few years ago, I never thought my name could be called. I really hope it does.”
A native of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Coghlan had four goals and 20 assists in 70 games. That was a big improvement over his rookie year, when he had two goals and five points in 55 games.
“I think it’s opportunity,” he said. “I was getting more ice time, I was put in a more serious and mature role, and that boosted my confidence and really helped me.”
CHL EUROPEAN DRAFT: The Americans will pass on the draft, which is Tuesday. With defenseman Juuso Välimäki (Finland) and forward Vladislav Lukin (Russia) returning, Tory said they are happy with their roster.
WHL SCHEDULE: The master schedule is done and is being checked by the WHL for any conflicts. It will be released Monday.