Gauthier, Nazar, McGroarty among most notable standouts from Michigan-based program
You may not know it from the youth teams they are credited with on their various draft profiles, but three of the first 15 picks in this year’s NHL Draft grew up playing together.
While they ended up going their separate ways for the conclusion of their youth hockey careers, Cutter Gauthier, Frank Nazar and Rutger McGroarty spent a significant chunk of their youth hockey days dominating the Michigan AAA hockey scene with HoneyBaked 2004s.
If you check out the HoneyBaked 13U listing on Elite Prospects for the 2017-18 season, you’ll see the three players, now with NHL logos next to their name.
Gauthier, originally from Sweden before moving to Scottsdale, Ariz., and then to Metro Detroit, was the first of the trio of forwards off the board, selected at No. 5 overall by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Next was Nazar, the lone true Michigan native of the three, hailing from Mt. Clemens and set to become a Michigan Wolverine next season. He was chosen by the neighboring Chicago Blackhawks, who picked the quick-footed center at No. 14.
One pick later, the Winnipeg Jets claimed McGroarty, a native of Lincoln, Neb., at No. 15.
Few youth teams can boast that they had three top-15 NHL Draft picks on their roster at one time. The closest a fellow Michigan team has come of late is the Belle Tire ’96 squad, which saw Brendan Perlini and Dylan Larkin go No. 12 and No. 14, respectively, before teammates Zach Werenski and Kyle Connor were drafted a year later at No. 8 and No. 17, respectively.
So two of the three weren’t from Michigan, but they spent their formative years skating together in the Great Lakes State. In their 14U season, they opted for different paths – Gauthier made the jump all the way up to the HoneyBaked 16U team, while Nazar ventured over to Little Caesars for a season and played a leading role in a national championship run for the Detroit Red Wings’ affiliated youth franchise. McGroarty stayed at HoneyBaked, where he was joined by future Montreal Canadiens draftee Lane Hutson; the swift-skating defenseman ventured into Michigan for one year of AAA hockey before heading to the North Jersey Avalanche.
The next year, McGroarty ended up playing 15-Only for the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, while Nazar returned to HoneyBaked for their 15-Only squad and Gauthier moved over to Compuware to skate for their 16U team. McGroarty posted a mind-boggling 160 points in 63 games at the 15-Only rule as his birth-year dealt with the new rule mandating players stay in their solo birth-year for the 15-Only AAA play. Gauthier, having already played up at 16U the year before, was grandfathered in.
Ironically, all three ended up back together again for a team in Metro Detroit in the fall of 2020 – this time for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. They were joined by Hutson and fellow HoneyBaked/Oakland Jr. Grizzlies alum Hunter Brzustewicz, who will be draft eligible in 2023.
After two seasons in the top-six of the NTDP forwards group, they continue the trend of Team USA pumping out high NHL Draft picks. Six NTDP products went in this year’s first round, while 14 NTDP players from this past season were selected. If you count up NTDP alums and other call-ups, a new record of 25 draftees was established for the Plymouth, Mich., based program.
Slovakia has its night
Fresh off helping their men’s national team capture bronze in Beijing for Slovakia’s first Olympic medal in hockey, Juraj Slafkovsky was selected No. 1 overall and Simon Nemec was chosen right after him to make some history for their country’s hockey community. It was just the second time in NHL history that a country outside the U.S. or Canada produced the first two picks in the draft, and the only other time it’s happened was when Russians Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin went 1-2. Quite a duo to now be compared to for the two Slovakian stars.
Filip Mesar was selected at No. 26 overall, as well, putting three Slovakian born and trained players in the first round – a banner day for Slovakian hockey, to be sure.
As John Buccigross reported at the conclusion of Round 1, the 2022 NHL Draft’s opening night featured the most players born outside of North America in league history.
Sixteen of the 32 picks were of players born outside of the two countries in which the NHL operates, with representation coming from Slovakia, Czechia, Austria, Russia, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland.
At the WORLD Hockey Hub, that’s the kind of stat we like to see.
So how many of the major world-wide youth tournaments did the first-round picks participate in? Here’s a breakdown:
Ten of the first-rounders played in The Brick in Edmonton
Nine of the first-rounders participated in the at Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament
Seventeen played in a World Selects Invite spring tournament
Ten played in the Youth Olympic Games in 2019-2020, including Nazar, McGroarty, and fellow first-rounders and NTDP products Isaac Howard and Jimmy Snuggerud.
Here’s the pick-by-pick look at the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft:
No. 1 – Montreal – Juraj Slafkovsky – Left Wing – Kosice, Slovakia – TPS (Finland)
No. 2- New Jersey – Simon Nemec – Defenseman – Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia – HK Nitra (Slovakia)
No. 3 – Arizona – Logan Cooley – Center – Pittsburgh, Pa. – NTDP Under-18 Team (USHL)
No. 4 – Seattle – Shane Wright – Center – Burlington, Ont. – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
No. 5 – Philadelphia – Cutter Gauthier – Left Wing/Center – Scottsdale, Ariz. – NTDP Under-18 Team (USHL)
No. 6 – Columbus – David Jiricek – Defenseman – Klatovy, Czechia – HC Plzen (Czechia)
No. 7 – Chicago – Kevin Korchinski – Defenseman – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
No. 8 – Detroit – Marco Kasper – Center – Innsbruck, Austria – Rogle BK (SHL)
No. 9 – Buffalo – Matthew Savoie – Center – St. Alberta, Alberta – Winnipeg ICE (WHL)
No. 10 – Anaheim – Pavel Mintyukov – Defenseman – Moska, Russia – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
No. 11 – Arizona – Conor Geekie – Center – Strathclair, Manitoba – Winnipeg ICE (WHL)
No. 12 – Columbus – Denton Mateychuk – Defenseman – Winnipeg, Manitoba – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
No. 13 – Chicago – Frank Nazar – Center/Right Wing – Mt. Clemens, Mich. – NTDP Under-18 Team (USHL)
No. 14 – Winnipeg – Rutger McGroarty – Center/Right Wing – Lincoln, Neb. – NTDP Under-18 Team (USHL)
No. 15 – Vancouver – Jonathan Lekkerimaki – Right Wing – Huddinge, Sweden – Djurgardens IF (SHL)
No. 16 – Buffalo – Noah Ostlund – Center – Nykvarn, Sweden – Djurgardens IF (SHL)
No. 17 – Nashville – Joakim Kemell – Right Wing – Jyvaskylan, Finland – JYP (Liiga)
No. 18 – Dallas – Lian Bichsel – Defenseman – Olten, Switzerland – Leksands IF (SHL)
No. 19 – Minnesota – Liam Ohgren – Left Wing – Stockholm, Sweden – Djurgardens IF (SHL)
No. 20 – Washington – Ivan Miroshnichenko – Left Wing – Ussuriysk, Russia – Omskie Krylia (VHL)
No. 21 – Pittsburgh – Owen Pickering – Defenseman – St. Adolphe, Manitoba – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
No. 22 – Anaheim – Nathan Gaucher – Center – Longueuil, Quebec – Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
No. 23 – St. Louis – Jimmy Snuggerud – Right Wing – Chaska, Minn. – NTDP Under-18 Team (USHL)
No. 24 – Minnesota – Danila Yurov – Right Wing – Chelyabinsk, Russia – Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
No. 25 – Chicago – Sam Rinzel – Defenseman – Chanhassen, Minn. – Chaska High (USHS – Minn) and Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)
No. 26 – Montreal – Filip Mesar – Wing/Center – Spisska Bela, Slovakia – HK Poprad (Slovakia)
No. 27 – San Jose – Filip Bystedt – Center – Linkoping, Sweden – Linkoping HC (SHL)
No. 28 – Buffalo – Jiri Kulich – Center – Kadan, Czechia – Energie Karlovy Vary (Czechia)
No. 29 – Arizona – Maveric Lamoureux – Defenseman – Hawkesbury, Ont. – Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
No. 30 – Winnipeg – Brad Lambert – Center/Right Wing – Lahti, Finland – Pelicans (Liiga)
No. 31 – Tampa Bay – Isaac Howard – Left Wing – Hudson, Wisc. – NTDP Under-18 Team (USHL)
No. 32 – Edmonton – Reid Schaefer – Left Wing – Spruce Grove, Alberta – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)