BUFFALO, N.Y. – Auston Matthews became the first American selected first in the NHL draft since 2007. But after the Toronto Maple Leafs made their choice, 11 more Americans were taken in the opening round, a record.
Among the 12 Americans chosen Friday were two Minnesotans, Kieffer Bellows and Riley Tufte.
The draft had an international flavor to it, starting with Matthews becoming the seventh American-born player to be selected No. 1, and first since the Chicago Blackhawks chose Patrick Kane in 2007.
“My heart was beating. It was very nerve-racking,” Matthews said, noting the Maple Leafs had not tipped their hand on who they were going to select since winning the NHL draft lottery in April. “Once they called my name, it was definitely a sigh of relief.”
Matthews, who grew up a Coyotes fan in Scottsdale, Ariz., was expected to be selected first.
“He’s an elite player with an elite drive train,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s going to make us better, and he’ll develop into a top, top center in the National Hockey League.”
Three players from Finland were selected among the top five picks, the most by the northern European nation.
Vancouver rounded out the run of Finns by selecting defenseman Oli Juolevi with the fifth pick. The Winnipeg Jets selected forward Patrik Laine second, and Edmonton took forward Jesse Puljujarvi at No. 4.
Bellows was picked 19th by the New York Islanders.
The 6-foot, 200-pound winger, who helped Edina to a state title in 2014, played last season for the United States U-18 development program, where he was a 50-goal scorer. The son of former North Stars standout Brian Bellows, he has committed to Boston University.
“It’s a very surreal moment being drafted by such a historic organization,” Kieffer Bellows said.
Tufte went to the Dallas Stars with the 25th pick. The 6-6 center was Mr. Hockey in Minnesota after a standout season at Blaine High School.
“I know it’s a great organization with a great fan base,” said Tufte, who will play next season at Minnesota Duluth.
Starting with Columbus selecting Pierre-Luc Dubois at No. 3, only three Canadian-born players were taken among the top 10 picks. That matches last year’s total, which was the fewest for Canada in the draft.
Seven first-rounders have fathers who played in the NHL — Bellows, Matthew Tkachuk (Keith), Alexander Nylander (Michael), Logan Brown (Jeff), Jakob Chychrun (Jeff), Max Jones (Brad) and Tage Thompson (Brent).