Bob Motzko isn’t one to brag, but the Gophers men’s hockey coach had every right to puff his chest a bit Saturday afternoon.
The NHL draft had just wrapped up, and four incoming Gophers, one Minnesota sophomore and another signed player who’ll start his Gophers career in 2020-21 were selected in Vancouver, British Columbia. The seven players with Gophers ties are the most selected since a school-record nine were picked in 2007.
“This is two exciting days in hockey that everybody follows,’’ Motzko said. “It’s a pretty special time for us. We get some great notoriety with our guys being selected, but now the work begins. ... You enjoy it for a couple days, then the real work begins.’’
The excitement started for the Gophers late Friday night when incoming freshman defenseman Ryan Johnson was selected with the last pick of the first round, 31st overall, by the Buffalo Sabres.
On Saturday, six more with Gophers ties were selected:
* Jackson LaCombe, a Shattuck-St. Mary’s defenseman who’ll begin his Gophers career this fall, went in the second round (39th) to Anaheim.
* Aaron Huglen, a forward from Roseau, Minn., who has verbally committed to the Gophers, was taken in the fourth round (102nd) by Buffalo. Huglen will play for Fargo of the USHL this season.
* Rhett Pitlick, a forward from Chaska who has verbally committed to Minnesota, went in the fifth round (131st) to Montreal. Pitlick, whose father, Lance, and brother, Rem, were Gophers standouts and NHL draftees, will play for Omaha of the USHL in 2019-20.
* Michael Koster, a defenseman from Chaska, went in the fifth round (146th) to Toronto. Koster has signed with the Gophers but is expected to play for Tri-City of the USHL this season.
* Ben Brinkman, a defenseman who’ll be a Gophers sophomore this season, was selected in the sixth round (173rd) by Dallas.
* Bryce Brodzinski, a forward from Blaine who was named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey this season, was selected in the seventh round (196th) by Philadelphia.
“It gives a great indication in the direction we’re moving and the type of players we’re bringing in,’’ Motzko said of his signed players that were drafted.
That starts with Johnson, a 6-foot, 170-pounder, from Irvine, Calif., whose father, Craig, played three seasons for the Gophers from 1990-93 before a 10-year NHL career that included eight seasons with Los Angeles and one with Anaheim.
Motzko sees a defenseman who’s made great strides. Johnson helped the Sioux Falls Stampede win the USHL’s Clark Cup championship in his only season in the league, collecting six goals and 19 assists in 54 regular-season games and adding two goals and six assists in 12 playoff contests.
“The best hockey is still in front of him. He’s just scratching the surface. He’s got great skating ability; his feet are electric,’’ Motzko said. “As he gets physically more mature and stronger, the offensive side of his game is going to improve greatly.’’
Ryan Johnson wasn’t sure he would be selected in the first round but was relieved to hear his name called.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, and I’m just happy I was drafted tonight,’’ he said Friday night. “Obviously, I’ve got a long way to go and a lot of work to do.’’
Ryan Johnson was drafted two spots before his dad, who was selected 33rd overall by St. Louis in 1990.
“The family bet was on,’’ Motzko said. “Who was going to win?’’
Johnson said his plan is to, “play at couple years [at Minnesota] and see where that takes me.’’
LaCombe amassed huge statistics at Shattuck – 22 goals and 67 assists in 54 games this season – and like Johnson, has speed. “What set these guys apart is their skating ability,’’ Motzko said.
Koster, who had 19 goals and 40 assists for Chaska in 2018-19, will have time to grow his game in the USHL. “The next step for Michael is his physical development,’’ Motzko said of the 5-9, 172-pounder.
Brinkman, from Edina, had one goal and six assists as an 18-year-old Gophers freshman last season. Motzko liked the poise he displayed. “The greatest thing I can say about Ben this year is from start to finish, we [coaches] hardly ever had to say his name,’’ he said. “He just continued to get more confident, to get stronger, to get better. … He might have been one heck of a bargain where he went.’’
Brodzinski, who had 32 goals and 44 assists in 23 games for Blaine this season, was the second Minnesotan selected by the Flyers this year, joining Bobby Brink, the former Minnetonka standout who’s going to the University of Denver.
Motzko sees Brodzinski as an impact player.
“Obviously, we’re going to be awfully biased, but I think that’s the steal of the draft right there,’’ Motzko said. “He’s got the great Brodzinski traits – he can score goals.’’