NHL teams select a trio of Alaskans in entry draft

Doyle Woody

On a shift both whirlwind and long -- by hockey's standards, at least -- Austin Wuthrich on Saturday toured Pittsburgh's CONSOL Energy Center.

The right wing from Anchorage got a jersey and hat from the Washington Capitals. He had his picture taken. He met with the media. He met Capitals scouts. And he was taken up to the Caps' suite in the arena.

All that happened with Wuthrich's parents, grandparents and girlfriend on hand to witness a seminal moment in a player's career -- getting selected in the NHL draft.

"It's definitely exciting," Wuthrich said by cellphone. "It's all like a big blur. I couldn't stop smiling. It was nice."

Wuthrich, 18, led a charge of three Alaska skaters drafted Saturday -- the Capitals picked him in the fourth round, the 107th of 211 players selected.

Defenseman Brian Cooper, 18, of Anchorage, was taken in the fifth round, 127th overall, by the Anaheim Ducks. And left wing Hunter Fejes, 18, of Anchorage, went in the sixth round, 178th overall, to the Phoenix Coyotes.

The only other year more Alaskans were drafted was 1987, when four were selected. Of course, that draft went 12 rounds compared to this year's seven-round draft.

Three Alaskans were drafted in both 2004 and 1999, when the draft covered nine rounds.

Since 1983, 34 Alaskans have been drafted. Of the 31 drafted before this year, 11 have ascended to the NHL, the world's best league. Four Alaskans, including Scott Gomez, the two-time Stanley Cup winner and former NHL Rookie of the Year who is the most accomplished player in state history, were first-round selections.

Wuthrich said he made the six-hour drive to Pittsburgh from South Bend, Ind. -- he'll be a sophomore at Notre Dame in the fall -- to attend the draft on the advice of his adviser. Afterward, he was back in the car, headed back to campus.

Fejes, who won a USA Hockey U-18 national championship this spring with Shattuck-St. Mary's (Minn.) and is headed to Colorado College on scholarship as a true freshman in the fall, said getting drafted was the culmination of a satisfying year.

He woke up Saturday morning in Anchorage and soon received a call from his adviser, who told him Phoenix drafted Fejes' rights. The Coyotes quickly followed with a call.

"It's pretty unbelievable, actually," Fejes said. "Your dreams become reality. I can't really put it into words.

"It's a lot of happiness and a lot of adrenaline going through your body."

Cooper had been projected to go as high as the third round and greeted his fifth-round selection with the kind of even-keeled response indicative of the maturity that made him captain of the U.S. Hockey League's Fargo Force as a 17-year-old.

"It would have been nice to go higher,'' Cooper said, "but I'm not complaining. You try not to get too nervous, too wound up.''

The round in which a player is drafted doesn't always predict his future as a pro. After all, these are 18-year-olds still developing. Some late-round picks develop into draft-day steals, some first-round picks never make good.

For instance, winger Tim Wallace of Anchorage was never drafted and he played nearly all last season in the NHL. Winger Joey Crabb of Anchorage was a seventh-round pick and became a NHL regular last season.

"At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what round you were drafted," Wuthrich said.

Wuthrich is coming off a strong first season at Notre Dame. After missing nearly the entire 2010-11 season with a broken leg that required surgery while playing in USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder came back to furnish Notre Dame with 7-10--17 totals in 36 games.

Cooper is small by pro defenseman standards -- the NHL lists him at 5-9, 184 -- but is an exceptional skater who delivers hits that belie his size and is known for his strength and conditioning. He began playing in the USHL at 15, and in three seasons with Fargo delivered 20-50--70 totals and a combined plus-38 rating in 161 games.

Cooper is headed to Nebraska-Omaha as a true freshman in the fall. First, though, he will attend a developmental camp with Anaheim beginning in late July and then head to Lake Placid, N.Y., for USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp. Players from that camp will be chosen to play for Team USA in the 2013 World Junior Championship.

"It's going to be a hectic time," Cooper said.

Fejes spent the last five years at Shattuck, a prep school with an elite hockey program that has been home to players such as Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews.

The 6-1, 190-pounder last season produced 38-40--78 totals in 55 games for the Sabres, and now he has capped his senior year by being drafted and getting ready to attend Phoenix's development camp.

"I couldn't ask for a better way to end my Shattuck career," Fejes said.

Draft notes

The three Alaskans drafted ended a two-year drought for Alaska -- no Alaskans were selected in 2011 or 2010.

Since the first Alaskans were drafted in 1983, the longest stretch in which no Alaskans were drafted was a three-year span from 2005-07.

Washington's selection of Wuthrich and Anaheim's selection of Cooper marked the first time either organization has drafted an Alaskan.

Incoming UAF freshman defenseman Colton Parayko became the highest draft pick in Nanooks history when the St. Louis Blues picked him in the third round, 86th overall, on Saturday.

Parayko, 19, a 6-4, 191-pounder, last season earned 9-33--42 totals in 53 games for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

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