During his time skating for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in Michigan, future Minnesota Gophers forward Chaz Lucius looked good wearing red, white and blue. After what Gophers fans hope will be a productive run as a college hockey player, Lucius will get a chance to don those colors for a paycheck.
The Winnipeg Jets’ good run of picking American college kids continued on Friday, when they plucked Lucius 18th overall in the 2021 NHL Draft’s first round. Lucius, who is from Grant, Minn., and committed to play for the Gophers when he was just 14, came back from a knee injury to play 13 games for the USA Hockey program last winter, recording 13 goals and seven assists in that short span.
Lucius was in Michigan when he got the news. He is skating for Team USA in the World Junior Summer Showcase, in hopes of playing for the American team in this winter’s IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships.
“Obviously the moment was very special to share with my family and to be here with USA Hockey, which has helped me along the way,” said Lucius, in a Zoom meeting with reporters just minutes after his name was called. “If I were to describe my game I’d say my biggest attribute is my goal scoring and my offensive production. I’d say I’m a good teammate.”
Some draft projections had Lucius going in the top 10, but there may have been concern from some general managers and scouts about the knee ailment which caused his stock to drop on Friday.
“Obviously my injury wasn’t the best timing for it to happen in my draft year, but I really rolled with it, as it happened and through the recovery process,” Lucius said. “I really couldn’t control it at all, so from day one I wasn’t being sad, I wasn’t being mad, and whatever happened, happened. But I’m glad I’m a Winnipeg Jet now and I’m really fortunate that they drafted me.”
He is the first Gopher picked in the first round since defenseman Ryan Johnson went 31st overall to the Buffalo Sabres in the 2019 draft.
A forward with above average size (he is listed at 6-feet-0, 172 pounds), Lucius is the latest American collegian picked by Winnipeg general manager Kevin Chevaldayoff. The current Jets roster includes former Gophers star Blake Wheeler along with goalie Connor Hellebuyck (UMass-Lowell), forward Kyle Connor (Michigan), defenseman Derek Forbort (North Dakota) and defenseman Neal Pionk (Minnesota Duluth).
It was a banner night for college hockey in the draft, and Michigan hockey specifically. Four of the first five picks in the draft were either current or future Wolverines, with defenseman Owen Power going first overall to the Sabres and the Seattle Kraken picking forward Matty Beniers with the second overall pick.