USNTDP graduate Graham Slaggert seeks to make a difference with Cedar Rapids RoughRiders

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CEDAR RAPIDS — You don’t really want the first pick of the United States Hockey League Draft because it means you were the worst team in the league the previous season.

But when you do get it, you want to make sure you get it right. The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders feel like they got it right with Graham Slaggert.

It’s the total package the 18-year-old forward from South Bend, Ind., provides. He’s got skill, he’s got speed, he’s got versatility, he’s got pedigree.

He’s got character.

“That was part of the reason we drafted him where we did,” said RoughRiders Coach Mark Carlson, whose team hosted Lincoln Friday night and hosts Central Illinois Saturday night at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. “We think he’s a real quality person from a real quality family. A good work ethic and team guy. Obviously we like his ability, too. So it was a combination of things with him, which you probably noticed just talking to him.”

Slaggert definitely is a well-spoken, polite kid. He’s a coach’s kid, the son of Notre Dame associate head coach Andy Slaggert.

Graham played two years in the United States National Team Development Program, but it was determined one more year of junior hockey seasoning was needed before he heads off to play for his dad. Younger brother, Landon, also has committed to play for the Irish.

“Another year of development,” Slaggert said. “Honestly, there’s not much disappointment at all (with that). I felt like it would be good for me. Notre Dame has a lot of good players right now, and I’ll just kind of wait for that senior class to move out, then come in and have a big role on the team next year.”

This is the third position player aged out of “The Program” the RoughRiders have had over the years. Mike Brickley was on the inaugural 1999-2000 team, and Joe Wegwerth (now at Notre Dame) played part of the 2014-15 season here after being acquired in a trade from Green Bay.

Goalie Matt McNeely was here in 2011-12.

Those in the “The Program” (whose graduates include NHL star Patrick Kane, among others) are considered the bluebloods of the sport for their age group. Carlson was asked if there is any concern with picking up former USNTDPers, who, theoretically, could consider playing for another USHL club a step down.

“That would depend more on the maturity and the quality of the person,” Carlson said. “I think Slags is a mature person, and I think he understands. It’s like I always say I don’t know of anyone who played in this league too long. I do know a fair amount of players that have not stayed long enough, and that has made things very, very difficult for them in college hockey.”

For his part, Slaggert said he is very much all in with the RoughRiders. He wants to win, and he wants to make an impact on his team, on and off the ice.

“Just be more of a leader,” he said. “Everyone kind of leads in their own way, but this is different. With so many good players (as USNTDP teammates), sometimes you get lost. Now I have more eyes watching me, more responsibility. I think it’s good for me to have that responsibility and know I can be that guy to be a difference maker.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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