Pioneers see hat trick of talents drafted in Buffalo
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The University of Denver served notice to the NCAA in the spring with its Frozen Four run.
In June, it was the NHL’s turn.
Two sophomores to be – forward Dylan Gambrell and defenseman Blake Hillman – and incoming freshman Henrik Borgstrom were selected in the annual NHL Draft on June 24-25. It marked the 15th year in a row the Pioneers had at least one player picked.
It also was the first time since 2013, when Evan Cowley, Will Butcher and Quentin Shore were taken, that the Pioneers had three players selected in one draft.
Borgstrom, a high-scoring prospect from Finland, went in the first round (23rd overall) to the Florida Panthers. A rangy 6-foot-3 and 176 pounds, Borgstrom had 29 goals among his 55 points in 40 games in his country’s top junior league.
Panthers general manager Tom Rowe was ecstatic to land the future Pioneer.
“We are very excited to have selected Henrik with our first-round pick,” Rowe told the Panthers official website. “He is a big, exciting and highly skilled player that has had a strong season with the HIFK Junior team.
“He is heading to a strong program at the University of Denver that will help further his development.”
Borgstrom was the fourth DU player ever taken in the first round, joining Beau Bennett (2010), Joe Colborne (2008) and Craig Redmond (1984).
Gambrell capped an ascendant season by being selected in the second round (60th overall) by the Stanley Cup finalist San Jose Sharks.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Gambrell was one of the Pioneers’ best players all season, amassing 47 points (17 goals) and forming one of college hockey’s most electrifying lines with Danton Heinen and Trevor Moore. The point total was third most among freshmen in Division I and second only to North Dakota’s Brock Boeser in the NCHC.
“It was a good draft for our team,” Gambrell said, adding the selection by the Sharks came as a bit of a surprise. “Some teams talked to me more than others, but I had no idea when the time came. I tried not to think about it.
“I’m excited to be part of the Sharks organization. They’re one of the closest teams to where I grew up, besides the Vancouver Canucks.”
In helping DU to its first Frozen Four since 2005, Gambrell collected several honors. He was selected to the NCHC All-Rookie Team and earned NCAA All-Regional Team honors at the NCAA West Regional, where he had five points in two games.
Hillman (pictured) went to the Chicago Blackhawks in the sixth round (173rd overall). The 6-foot-1 Hillman blossomed during the second half of the season, when he scored 10 of his 11 points. He was chosen the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA West Regional after recording four points in Denver’s two wins and netting the winning goal in the Pioneers’ victory over Ferris State.
“I talked to a couple of teams, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up,” Hillman said. “I knew there was a chance. I did talk to Chicago probably the most the past three years I was eligible. A scout of theirs told me he liked how I was playing this season.”
Gambrell was more bullish on Hillman, whom he played with in Dubuque (United States Hockey League) and at DU.
“I’ve played with him for the past three years and watched him progress. I told him to be ready,” Gambrell said. “He’s really poised with the puck, and as the season went along, his confidence starting going through the roof. He was playing more and making great decisions.”
Gambrell and Hillman took a large measure of pride in their selections continuing the Pioneers’ momentum.
“It says a lot about DU,” Hillman said. “One reason is Jim Montgomery is a great coach and a winning coach. He has a great track record of sending players on to the next level wherever he is coaching.”
– Chris Bayee