Jeremy Swayman and Croix Evingson came up together through Anchorage's youth hockey ranks. They both went Outside in their high school years to play for elite youth teams and then develop their games on junior circuits. And they're both headed to college programs that compete in Hockey East.
Saturday morning, the friends shared another link — they're NHL draft picks.
The Boston Bruins selected Swayman, a goaltender, in the fourth round, 111th overall, and the Winnipeg Jets picked Evingson, a defenseman, in the seventh round, 211th overall.
"Unbelievable, man,'' Swayman said. "Absolutely incredible.''
His pal Evingson was likewise thrilled.
"It's pretty cool, obviously,'' he said. "I'm sitting here watching kids get drafted, and then it was me. It's your dream growing up, obviously, and it seems like it's so far away, especially being from Alaska.
"It almost doesn't feel real.''
The long-time friends and offseason workout partners will be opponents next season. Swayman, 18, is headed to the University of Maine, and Evingson, 19, is ticketed for UMass-Lowell. Maine plays a Hockey East series at UMass-Lowell, which also includes forward Kenny Hausinger of Anchorage, on Nov. 3-4.
The 6-foot-2, 204-pound Swayman played last season for the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Stampede of the U.S. Hockey League. He went 7-18-5 with a 2.90 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. NHL Central Scouting ranked Swayman No. 12 among North American goalies in its final pre-draft rankings, up from No. 18 in the mid-term listings. He was the 12th masked man picked in the draft, and third among Americans.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Evingson led North American Hockey League blueliners in assists and points last season with 12-40—52 totals in 59 games for the Shreveport (Louisiana) Mudbugs. He was voted the circuit's Defenseman of the Year. Evingson was not ranked by NHL Central Scouting, but teams in the world's best league were intrigued by his size and offensive prowess.
The two Alaskans drafted Saturday were the most in a single draft since three Alaskans were picked in 2012. The most Alaskans taken in a draft were four in 1987, when the draft went 12 rounds compared to the current seven rounds.
More than three dozen Alaskans have been drafted since 1983.
In all, 16 Alaskans have ascended to the NHL, and 12 of those were drafted.
Only two Alaskan goaltenders — the retired Ty Conklin of Anchorage and Pheonix Copley of North Pole — have made it to the NHL. And one Alaska defenseman — the retired Matt Carle of Anchorage — has cashed checks in the NHL.
It is not uncommon for undrafted players, usually late bloomers, to make it to the NHL. Conklin, Copley, as well as Justin Johnson and Casey Bailey of Anchorage — all four played college hockey — were not drafted and climbed to the NHL.
Swayman said getting drafted delivered confirmation he's on the right track.
"It gives you a token of appreciation for all the sacrifices you made, (and it's) that notion you've done something and all your work was for something,'' he said.
Swayman said his technical work in the last year has focused on staying on his feet more and also refining his ability to play the puck. The latter skill relieves pressure on a goalie's defensemen and thwarts an opponent's ability to fore-check effectively.
Evingson has put in labor to improve his skating, which is often the challenge for a player with his considerable size.
Getting drafted furnishes a player an advantage. NHL clubs usually invite their draft picks to offseason development camps and keep close watch on them during the season.
Still, as thrilling as it is for a teenager to be drafted, most players understand that while it is a milestone and a step up on hockey's ladder, it is not a guarantee he will play in the world's best league.
"The opportunity is presented,'' Swayman said. "There are no promises.''