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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service , Published June 29 2013

NHL draft could provide banner year for Grand Forks area

GRAND FORKS – On the eve of the NHL draft, Gage Ausmus found out something new.

It has been 30 years since an East Grand Forks player has been selected in the NHL draft.

“Wow. Really?” Ausmus asked. “Who was it?”

Craig Mack. 1983.

But that trivia question answer may be changing today.

As many as two former Green Wave players – Ausmus and Tucker Poolman – could be selected as the NHL draft is held in Newark, N.J., beginning at 2 p.m. today.

On the other side of the Red River, Devils Lake’s Keaton Thompson and Grand Forks’ Luke Johnson are both candidates to get selected out of the state of North Dakota, which has had just one draft pick in the last decade.

If all of them go, it will be the first time ever that three Greater Grand Forks players get selected in the same draft.

“It’s really cool that all of us from around here have the potential to get drafted this year,” said Ausmus, who will suit up for the University of North Dakota, as will the others. “I’m good friends with all of those guys. I grew up playing with Keaton and Tucker and playing against Luke. It will be fun being on the same team as all of them.”

Thompson is the most likely to get picked. A defenseman with elite offensive ability, he’s projected to get picked in the second or third rounds. If he goes in the second, he will be the highest-drafted player ever to play North Dakota high school hockey.

That distinction currently belongs to Grafton’s Lee Brodeur, who went No. 65 overall (fourth round) to Montreal in 1984.

Ausmus and Johnson are both projected to be late-round selections by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. Ausmus, a stay-at-home, physical defenseman, is ranked as the No. 148 North American skater. Johnson, a skilled forward, is ranked as the No. 96 North American skater.

Poolman is an under-the-radar possibility. He was never ranked by any of the NHL’s Central Scouting projections and has already been passed over in two drafts. But the two-way defenseman’s big season in the United States Hockey League has opened some eyes and he could sneak into the late rounds.

All four players have committed to UND. Ausmus, Thompson and Johnson will suit up in the fall. Poolman is expected to come in 2014. Paul LaDue, the only other North Dakotan to get selected since 2003, will be a freshman at UND this fall, too.

UND coach Dave Hakstol said he’s heard some buzz about the local players.

“It’s exciting to see some hometown guys and families that are coming into the program – or in some cases, families re-entering the program,” Hakstol said. “It’s great to have guys from the region, but most important is that those guys have success, do really well and be good members of the program.

“We’re starting to see a trend of a handful of good players from each birth year.”

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald