Michael Rasmussen is headed to Hockeytown.
The 18-year-old South Surrey native – and Semiahmoo Minor Hockey alum – was selected ninth overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the National Hockey League’s Entry Draft, the first round of which was held Friday night in Chicago.
In a media scrum Friday night, Rasmussen, a hulking centre who stands six-foot-six, called his selection by Detroit – the Michigan city dubbed ‘Hockeytown’ since the Red Wings’ Stanley-Cup mid-’90s – “a dream come true.”
“They’re a historic franchise, and it’s an amazing place to develop and play… I’m really thankful to be a part of the Detroit Red Wings,” he said.
Rasmussen has played the last two seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Kennewick, Wash.-based Tri-City Americans, and last season tallied 32 goals and 23 assists in just 50 games.
The former Southridge School student played hockey with Semiahmoo until bantam, at which time he moved to Penticton to play for the Okanagan Hockey Academy, where he spent two seasons before moving on to the WHL.
“He’s a real good kid, and a great athlete,” Semiahmoo Minor Hockey executive director Dave Newson, who coached Rasmussen as a bantam player, told Peace Arch News Monday. “We’re really happy for him, and it’s a perfect opportunity for him (in Detroit).”
Newson also pointed out that Rasmussen is the third Semiahmoo player to be chosen in the NHL draft’s first round in the last 10 years, joining Colton Gillies (16th overall in 2007) and Colten Teubert (13th overall in 2008).
“Moving players (to the NHL) isn’t our primary objective, but it’s nice to see it when it happens,” Newson said.
On Friday in Chicago, Rasmussen – who attended the draft with his parents and two sisters – didn’t have to wait long before he was called to the stage, but admitted after his selection that it had been a nerve-wracking wait nonetheless, and that he hadn’t slept well the night before.
“It’s cool. (Waiting) is part of the process. I saw a couple of my buddies (get drafted) pretty high, and I was obviously happy for them. I was just waiting for me name,” he said.
“It was (a tough night’s sleep), for me, for sure. Everybody’s different, but for me, my mind’s always racing. It was a good day, though.”
Rasmussen – who had been predicted to be selected anywhere from fifth or sixth in the draft to the mid-teens – said he had an inkling that the Red Wings might be the ones to call his name. In early June, at the NHL’s draft combine – in which prospects are put through fitness tests and also given the opportunity to speak with teams – the Wings were one of a handful of team to show interest in him, he said.
“I wouldn’t say it was a gut (feeling), but it was one of my hopes that I could go to Detroit and I’d be lucky enough for them to pick me,” he said.
“My combine meeting with them went really well, and it was in my mind that this was a place I wanted to go.”
Prior to the draft, some scouts compared Rasmussen – who grew up as a Vancouver Canucks fan – to another Red Wings’ great, power forward Tomas Holmstrom.
“If someone compares me to that player, it’s pretty special,” Rasmussen said. “I used to watch him growing up and I haven’t really been a player that’s better in front of the net or better with his stick or better at not getting moved so that’s an awesome comparison for sure.”
After making the first-round selection, Red Wings’ longtime general manager Ken Holland – a Vernon, B.C. native – told NBC that the Motor City squad selected Rasmussen because “He’s a big man with a lot of character… and a lot of skill.”
Detroit struggled during the 2016/17 season, which left the franchise with its first top-10 pick since 1991.
“It was a disappointing season… but being able to pick Michael is a nice consolation prize,” he said.
Rasmussen is likely to return to the WHL’s Americans for the 2017/18 – he was recently named captain of Tri-City, Holland noted – but Rasmussen said he is gunning for a spot on the NHL roster, nonetheless.
“I don’t think too much about that, but my job is to make it tough on whoever is going to cut me. That’s my goal this summer – to work every day and improve,” he said. “That’s my goal – to make the NHL… and I want to do it as fast as I can.”