Needing an injection of skilled players, the Calgary Flames selected Sven Bartschi with the 13th pick in Friday’s National Hockey League Entry Draft.
Seeing an opportunity to strengthen their depth along the blue line, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Joe Morrow with the 23rd pick.
Two more Winterhawks were taken in the second round on Saturday morning. Ty Rattie was selected by St. Louis with the 32nd overall pick, and Tyler Wotherspoon went 57th overall to Calgary.
It was the second consecutive NHL Draft in which a pair of Winterhawks were first-round selections. Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter went fourth and fifth in the 2010 draft.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Winterhawks head coach and general manager Mike Johnston said from St. Paul, Minn., where he joined Winterhawks players and their families at the draft. “To have two guys drafted in the first round two years in a row is quite a feat.”
Winterhawks fans who gathered on Friday at Big Al’s in east Vancouver for a team-sponsored draft party greeted both selections with a standing ovation.
Each of the Winterhawks taken in this draft is likely to play next season with Portland.
As expected, forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels was the No. 1 overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers. Defenseman Duncan Siemens of the Saskatoon Blades went to Colorado with the 11th pick, and forward Mark McNeill of the Prince Albert Raiders went 18th to Chicago.
Johnston said the San Jose Sharks were high on Rattie. But San Jose traded away its first-round pick in the middle of Friday’s draft.
Johnston said he expected Bartschi to be selected between picks 10 and 15. He noted that the Flames have tended to draft for physical presence in recent years, but expressed interest in adding more skill with this draft.
Bartschi was the Western Conference rookie of the year in 2010-11, leading all WHL rookies with 34 goals and 51 assists for 85 points. He added 10 goals and 17 assists in 21 playoff games. Bartschi also competed for Switzerland at the World Junior Championship, where he had a goal and an assist in helping the Swiss team to a fifth-place finish.
Bartschi joined fellow Swiss player Niederreiter in making the jump from Western Hockey League rookie with Portland to first-round NHL draft pick in one season.
“They are two of the better players in their country,” Johnston said. “Both needed to come over here and learn how to play on the smaller ice surface and show the NHL people that they could play the North American style game.”
Morrow, the third member of his family to be drafted by an NHL team, led all Portland defensemen with nine goals and 40 assists for 49 points in the regular season. He led the team’s defensemen in playoff scoring with six goals and 14 assists in 21 games.
Morrow’s father Dave, a former Winterhawk, was taken in the fourth round in 1977 by the Vancouver Canucks. His brother Josh was taken in the seventh round of the 2002 draft by the Nashville Predators.
A Sherwood Park, Alberta-native, Morrow was projected as a third-round pick at the start of last season, but gradually climbed in the pre-draft rankings thanks to a strong second half of the season, stronger playoffs, and strong showing in pre-draft testing.
Johnston said Morrow showed significant growth when team captain Brett Ponich — a St. Louis Blues prospect — was lost to a midseason knee injury.
“Joe had to take on more ice time, and he relished the opportunity and really thrived,” Johnston said.
Johnston said his initial reaction is that Calgary is a good fit for Barschi and Morrow a good fit for Pittsburgh. The Flames are looking for an infusion of puck skill, and the Penguins play a similar style to the Winterhawks that demands mobile defensemen.
“We think (Morrow) is going to be a top-four defenseman. He’s got good size. He’s a powerful player, a powerful skater. He already possesses an NHL shot,” Penguins assistant director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton told the Penguins’ website. “He will fit well with the style of play that we want to play. We’re thrilled to get him.”
Johnston said he felt a little like a parent sharing the draft experience with the Winterhawk players, and gets a bit nervous for each as the draft unfolds. He added that Winterhawks owner Bill Gallacher was on hand in St. Paul to support and congratulate the players and their families.
“It’s such a special time for the kids and for their parents,” Johnston said.
But the draft is also a rewarding day for the Winterhawks. Sending players to the NHL helps recruit skilled players to join the team, Johnston said.
With at least two more players expected to be selected today, the organization will boast 12 draft picks in two years, which Johnston said is “quite incredible.”