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2011 NHL Draft: Even In Hockey, Minnesota Sports Fans Can't Catch A Break

With the 2011 NHL Draft taking place this weekend at Xcel Energy Center, a commentary on this being an off-year for talent in the State of Hockey.

There's been little to cheer about sports-wise in the Twin Cities lately. Fans have seen a collapse from a team seen as a preseason Super Bowl contender, the defending AL Central champions spend two months as the worst team in baseball and a basketball team end the season that way. They've seen coach after coach after coach fired (and might see one more) and enough injuries to stars and mere mortals alike to doom any type of playoff hope. They've even had to watch rival teams celebrate championships. So it should be no surprise with the 2011 NHL Draft being held in St. Paul this weekend that bad year continues with it appearing likely that for the first time in a decade, no Minnesotans will be taken in the first round.

Really.

Even writing that last sentence sounds strange, but for an area which prides itself on producing NHL players, the State of Hockey is having an off-year. Since 2003, nineteen Minnesotans have been chosen in the first round; including Erik Johnson being the #1 pick in 2006 and three being chosen last year. Six of the past seven Mr. Hockey award winners have gone in the first round (the seventh went in the second) even with a lack of a hype machine compared to some of the European or Canadian leagues. But that is never a guarantee as this year's Mr. Hockey, Kyle Rau, looks to be a late-round pick

It's just expected that the best players in the state can and are amongst the best players in the world. Minnesotans are proud of their own almost to a fault and because of that, the fact that a major storyline is that no hometown players will hear their name called Friday night (when the first round is held) hurts. Throw in the fact that other states are starting to catch up in hockey - according to Chris Peters at United States of Hockey, USA Hockey has now surpassed 500,000 registered players - alongside players in states like California and Missouri looking to be first-round picks and it is easy for Minnesota hockey fans to feel sorry for themselves.

But should we?

Despite the downward slide the Twin Cities sports landscape has appeared to have, it's not as if fans won't have anyone to cheer for at their own party. Besides the Wild holding the #10 pick, there are still twenty Minnesota-born players ranked in the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's top North American players with two, Mario Lucia of Wayzata HS and Seth Ambroz from New Prague, ranked thirty-fourth and thirty-first respectively.

There's no guarantee but Lucia, son of Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia, and Ambroz, who spent the last three seasons in Omaha playing in the USHL both have an outside chance of being picked Friday night. Mario has an interesting skill set which could interest teams; one scout told me back in January that "Lucia''s one of my favorite players in this draft period, let alone from high school."

Ambroz on the other hand has fallen from being projected as a top-five pick at this time last year to possibly being picked in the third round. Despite not progressing as much as some would like, teams do like his gritty play and size for a player his age.

So there is a chance of the hometown fans being happy seeing one of their own drafted Friday night. Stranger things have happened like Blake Wheeler being picked fifth overall in 2005 after being seen as a second round pick or even Ricky Rubio landing in Minnesota. While it might not be the best Minnesota-born draft class, Ambroz, Lucia and many others will realize a dream and hear their name called.

And in the end, that is what matters most.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.