CEDAR RAPIDS — He isn’t meant as an advertisement for the United States Hockey League. It just works out that way.
Nathan Smith played hockey primarily at the high school and midget levels in Florida two years ago. That’s not exactly top-notch competition.
The kid dominated so much in high school, his coach told him to start using opposite-handed sticks.
Smith never got drafted by a United States Hockey League club, making the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders this past fall as a “free agent.” One season in the league, and he becomes a draft pick by a team in the best league in the world.
The 19-year-old center was taken Saturday by the Winnipeg Jets in the third round, the 91st-overall pick, of the 2018 National Hockey League Draft. Smith led the Riders with 47 points in 51 games.
“Getting drafted into the NHL is like a dream,” Smith told the Jets’ team website.
“He’s a great story,” said RoughRiders Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson.
Smith will return to Cedar Rapids for the 2018-19 season. He is a Minnesota State commitment.
“It’s just one of the great things about our league,” Carlson said. “You bring in someone like Smitty. He works his tail off, deserves a ton of credit for working and getting better as the season went along. I think Winnipeg and other teams certainly noticed his desire to improve. It was nice to see him get drafted where he did.”
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Smith was one of four players with RoughRiders ties to get drafted Saturday. Defenseman Dustyn McFaul was taken in the sixth round by the Boston Bruins, defenseman Scott Perunovich in the second round by the St. Louis Blues and left winger Hugh McGing in the fifth round by the Blues.
McFaul was C.R.’s third-round pick in the USHL Phase II Draft a couple of months ago and is expected to play with the club this coming season. Perunovich played for the Riders in the 2016-17 season and had a great freshman season for Minnesota-Duluth.
McGing played the 2014-15 and 2015-16 season with the RoughRiders and scored 40 points this past season as a sophomore at Western Michigan.
“It was an exciting day,” said Carlson, who attended the NHL draft in Dallas with his wife, Tammy. “I’m just really happy for our guys and for their families. It’s just an exciting day for everybody all around.”
Perunovich and McGing are two of four former RoughRiders now associated with the Blues. St. Louis traded for forward Erik Foley late in the regular season, and he signed with the team.
Defenseman Mitch Reinke signed with St. Louis as an undrafted college free agent and made his NHL debut in April. Now you can add Perunovich and McGing to the Blues fold.
“Scotty deserves a ton of credit, as does the staff at Minnesota-Duluth,” Carlson said. “He has come a long, long way over the past two seasons. He has always been very dedicated and focused. He has worked hard and paid attention to details. He has turned himself into one heck of a hockey player.
“Hugh is a relentless player with a high skill level. He gets around the rink extremely well. I would never bet against that guy. So, for me, it’s exciting that St. Louis saw a lot of the same. I’m looking forward to watching Hugh and follow his progress.”
McFaul is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound defenseman from Canada.
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“He’s a player that we watched all year long on tape and in person,” Carlson said. “We really like him, with where we drafted him. We heard that there was a real good chance that he was going to get drafted. So we’re happy to see that and looking forward to having him be a part of our program.
I’d say he is a well-rounded defenseman. He moves the puck, sees the ice, has good size. He has a bite to him. And he’s only going to keep better.”
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