Eight Gophers expected to be selected in NHL draft

Thomas Vanek could be a top-five pick in the NHL Entry Draft, held Saturday and Sunday at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, home of the NHL's Nashville Predators. Vanek and seven other current or future Gopher teammates rank high, according to NHL scouts.

Thomas Vanek headlines a list of eight current or future Gopher hockey players who NHL scouts have their eyes on heading into the 2003 NHL Entry Draft June 21-22 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, home of the Nashville Predators, host of the draft.

Vanek could be one of the top five picks overall in the draft, and is ranked as the third-best North American skater by the National Hockey League's Central Scouting Service (CSS). The Florida Panthers have the top pick in the draft.

Vanek, the Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four, finished his freshman season at Minnesota with 31 goals and 31 assists for 62 points. He broke Aaron Broten's school freshman record of 58 points and became the first freshman to lead the Golden Gophers in scoring in 33 years.

Vanek told NCAAsports.com after the Frozen Four that he was looking forward to the draft – but gave no indication if he would return to the Gophers for his sophomore season, and a chance to help Minnesota win a third-straight national title.

"I plan to be there," the Austrian star said back in April. "My whole family is coming down there. I don't care where I go."

The Central Scouting Service releases three sets of rankings during the course of the season. The CSS makes its final list public during May.

The CSS separates players in four categories – North American skaters, North American goalies, European skaters and European goalies. Below is a look at eight current and future Gophers who are expected to be drafted and where they rank among their group heading into the Draft:

North American Skaters

No. 3 – Thomas Vanek, LW, 6-2, 208 pounds

No. 55 – Ryan Potulny, C, 6-0, 190 pounds

No. 75 – Mike Vannelli, D, 6-2, 190 pounds

No. 76 – Danny Irmen, C, 6-0, 182 pounds

No. 85 – Gino Guyer, C, 5-10, 184 pounds

No. 172 – Tyler Hirsch, RW, 5-10, 165 pounds

No. 179 – Peter Kennedy, D, 6-2, 175 pounds

North American Goaltenders

No. 15 – Travis Weber, G, 5-11, 175

Current Gophers and the NHL Draft:

Keith Ballard:

Drafted 11th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft ... highest Golden Gopher draft pick since Erik Rasmussen was taken with the seventh pick overall by Buffalo in the 1996 Entry Draft.

Paul Martin:

First high school player selected in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, the second-round selection (62nd overall pick) of New Jersey.

Barry Tallackson:

Drafted 53rd overall in the second round by the New Jersey Devils in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft ... participated in the 2002 U.S. Junior National Evaluation Camp this past summer.

Grant Potulny:

Selected in the fifth round (157th overall pick) of the NHL Entry Draft by Ottawa in 2000.

Matt Krumrie covers Gophers hockey for GoldenSports.net. He can be reached at gopherhockeyinsider@yahoo.com

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