2011 NHL Draft: Western Pennsylvania well represented in St. Paul

By Ian Altenbaugh
Photo: Jonathan Miller (NYR) is the highest drafted player to ever come out of the Pittsburgh area. (Photo courtesy of Ian Altenbaugh/HF)

Growing up in the Pittsburgh region, an area better known for its six Super Bowls than three Stanley Cups, it would be easy for a young athlete to feel drawn towards the gridiron rather than the rink. That however was never an issue for Jonathan Miller, John Gibson, Brandon Saad, and Vincent Trocheck.

"Hockey was my main sport," said Gibson, who was taken early in the second round by Anaheim. "I played baseball and basketball, but right from the start I knew it would be hockey and I stuck with that ever since."

A goaltender, Gibson will play for Michigan next year, under the tutelage of legendary coach Red Berenson. Headed to the WCHA is Miller, a forward who will be lacing it up for the North Dakota Fighting Sioux this coming fall.

Taken 15th overall by the New York Rangers, no player from the Western Pennsylvania region has been drafted higher than Miller. "I was the first one to play in my family," said Miller, "My dad saw the Pens win the Cup in ’92, so he wanted me to pick up a hockey stick. Who knows if they wouldn’t have won, I may not be sitting here now."

Gibson also credits the Penguins for generating interest in youth hockey. "They have really grown in the past couple years, obviously having won the cup and everything," he commented. "I think a lot of younger kids are getting involved."

The other two Pittsburgh area draft picks, Saad and Trocheck, will be returning to the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. For Saad it will be his second season in the OHL, for Trocheck, who was drafted 64th overall by the Florida Panthers, his third.

Saad, a power forward who was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks, was actually the second Pittsburgh native in as many years to have gone to the Hawks, the other being Notre Dame defenseman Stephen Johns.

"Me and Steve are good friends, both being from around the same area," Saad commented. "We played a couple of years together when we were growing up then met again at the national team when we played there for a year. It’s been a great relationship."

Prior to playing in Canadian Major Juniors, Saad was a member of the USNDT team in 2009-10, where he was a teammate of Miller, Gibson, Johns, as well as undrafted Pittsburgh native Barret Kaib.

"I’ve got to know them real well," commented Gibson. "Just all of the Pittsburgh kids, the Penguins have been presenting us well so we are pretty thankful for that."

"Yeah this is a great birth year," said Miller. "I think there is hope for some young guys coming out of there too. (Players) younger than us who can have some hope being in the situation we’re in. So I think it’s going to get better and better every year."