The 2017 NHL Entry Draft came to a close on Saturday afternoon, and the weekend turned out to be one of the best in Penn State hockey history.
After the NHL announced their Terry Pegula-inspired feasibility studies of new potential Division I hockey programs, incoming freshmen Evan Barratt, Cole Hults, 2018-19 recruit Aarne Talvitie, and rising sophomore Denis Smirnov were all selected in the NHL Entry Draft. These current and future Nittany Lions were drafted by Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey, and Colorado respectively, in rounds 3-6 of the draft.
Now that the dust has settled and the draft is officially over, here’s a closer look at how each Nittany Lion can fit into their future NHL team.
Evan Barratt, Center, Chicago Blackhawks (Round 3, Pick 90)
With this pick, Evan Barratt becomes the highest-drafted Nittany Lion in program history, edging out rising sophomore LW Brett Murray, who was selected 99th overall by Buffalo last year. Barratt is arguably the most well-rounded player joining Guy Gadowsky’s team this season, and he was an alternate captain of the US National under-18 team last year. Barratt has no glaring weaknesses in his game and is an especially strong passer and skater.
— Evan Barratt (@BarrattEvan) June 24, 2017
The Morrisville, Pa. native does have a high ceiling, but he probably will not be the Blackhawks’ top center as long as captain Jonathan Toews is on the team. He has the potential to slot in as the Blackhawks’ second line center, which means he’ll be able to play alongside star winger (and fellow American) Patrick Kane. This pick has the potential to be an excellent decision for the Blackhawks, and Penn State will certainly help him grow into an effective NHL player.
Cole Hults, Defenseman, Los Angeles Kings (Round 5, Pick 134)
Cole Hults’ commitment to Penn State flew largely under the radar, as the Stoughton, Wisc. native made the announcement soon after defenseman Vince Pedrie signed with the New York Rangers. Hults had a great 2016-17 season with the USHL’s Madison Capitols, scoring 32 points (6 goals) in 59 games. He has the offensive skills to make up for some of Pedrie’s lost production, but is not a one-dimensional player by any means.
— #LAKings (@LAKings) June 24, 2017
Not only does Hults have an effective offensive game, he also plays the game with an edge – and is not afraid to get physical with opposing forwards. He racked up 189 penalty minutes in 119 career USHL games with Madison. Selecting Hults adds depth to the Kings’ defensive prospect pool, which lacks a true standout prospect. A strong career in Hockey Valley could vault Hults to the top of the Kings’ charts.
Denis Smirnov, Left Wing, Colorado Avalanche (Round 6, Pick 156)
The last-place team in the NHL may have lost out on the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery, but that didn’t stop them from drafting a strong class. Colorado selected two very good defensemen early on in the draft (Cale Makar and Conor Timmons in rounds 1-2), but they later shifted to forwards. With the first pick of round six, they took Penn State’s best offensive talent, and one of the better wingers in Division I hockey.
Smirnov addresses the Avalanche’s need for wing prospects, and he has proven that he can compete against high-quality competition. The Russian could turn out to be one of the draft’s biggest steals, but the next couple seasons of his college career are crucial to his development. For now, however, this looks like one of the better late-round picks of this draft.
Aarne Talvitie, Center, New Jersey Devils (Round 6, Pick 160)
Of New Jersey’s eleven selections, the Devils took eight European players. Of those eight Europeans, three are centers, including Talvitie and No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier. The Devils’ greatly improved their center depth in this draft, but center wasn’t their greatest need coming into the draft. New Jersey’s need for defensive prospects far exceeds their need for more centers, especially with players like Pavel Zacha and John Quenneville, who can play both center and wing in the NHL.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) June 24, 2017
With that being said, Talvitie is more of a luxury pick for the Devils. The Espoo, Finland native is a good player and a proven leader; he captained his team to silver at the under-18 World Junior Championships back in April, but New Jersey already has plenty of centers in their system already. Talvitie is still very raw, but he has the opportunity and potential to prove himself as one of the stronger centers in the Devils’ prospect pool.