Saturday turned out to be another big day in the history of the Penn State men’s hockey program.
Four players — one current Nittany Lion and three who will be donning blue and white in the future — all heard their names called during the second day of the NHL draft at Chicago’s United Center.
Denis Smirnov, who helped the team to its first NCAA tournament berth earlier this year, was selected by the Colorado Avalanche. Evan Barratt and Cole Hults, who will be freshmen this fall, were picked by the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, respectively. Aarne Talvitie, who has given a verbal commitment to the program to be a freshman in 2018, was the choice of the New Jersey Devils.
Smirnov is the first to be selected while a member of the Nittany Lions, and it is the first time four players associated with the program were taken in the same draft. They give Penn State 10 players who have been selected in the draft.
They join current Lions Nikita Pavlychev (Pittsburgh Penguins, 2015 draft) and Brett Murray (Buffalo Sabres, 2016) on the draft list.
Barratt, 5-foot-11, 182-pound center, was the first off the board Saturday, going in the third round and 90th overall. He was in Chicago for the draft and quickly donned a Blackhawks sweater and hat to celebrate the moment.
Barratt tweeted Saturday afternoon: “Honored to be part of the @NHLBlackhawks dreams do come true. #gohawks.”
He is the second-highest selection for a Nittany Lion. Former Lion goalie Eamon McAdam was picked 70th overall by the New York Islanders in 2013. Max Gardiner was picked 74th overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2010, though he was committed to Minnesota at the time.
Barrett, from Bristol in the Philadelphia suburbs, has been a part of the U.S. developmental program for years. He played on the U.S. Under-18 team this past season, netting 18 goals and 38 assists in 63 games and helped the team to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships last winter.
Hults, taken in the fifth round and 134th overall, is a 6-1, 190-pound defenseman from Stoughton, Wis. He played for the Madison Capitols of the USHL this past season, netting six goals and 26 assists.
Talvitie is a 5-foot-11, 198-pound forward from Espoo, Finland, who posted five goals and four assists with the Finnish Under-18 team. He is slated to be the third Finn to play at Penn State. Defenseman Erik Autio will be a senior this season, and his brother Oskar is a goalie who also is committed to Penn State for the fall of 2018.
Smirnov led the nation’s Division I freshmen in scoring last season, drawing numerous calls from NHL personnel to the Penn State coaches’ offices. He was taken in the sixth round, 156th overall.
Penn State’s Most Valuable Player and Freshman of the Year scored 19 goals and 28 assists in helping the Nittany Lions to the Big Ten tournament title, an NCAA tournament win over Union and a spot in the NCAA regional finals. The Russian native was taken in his homeland’s KHL draft last year.