Opilka, Hughes selected at NHL draft - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Opilka, Hughes selected at NHL draft

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MADISON, Wis. -– When freshman Luke Opilka decided to attend the 2015 NHL Draft, he was looking forward to hearing his name called over the public address system at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida. He never could have expected the team that picked him would be his hometown St. Louis Blues.

Opilka, the first of two current Badgers to get selected in this year's draft, went in the fifth round, 146th overall, to the Blues.

Wisconsin, long known for its stellar goaltending, now boasts the first drafted goaltender on its roster since Brett Bennett wrapped up his UW career in 2011. All-time, 12 Badger goaltenders have been selected in NHL drafts, though that numbers increases to 13 when the old NHL supplemental draft is included. Seven Badger goaltenders have played in the NHL, including current St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott.

“We think he is underrated,” St. Louis Blues Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong said of Opilka. “He ran into some difficulties at the end of the year. We think if he would have played in some of those situations, he would have gone a lot higher.

“For us, he is a kid who competes. He is a very focused kid with good size and good athletic ability. So to get him where we got him… He is an exciting goaltender and not only that, he is a St. Louis kid. We like to take them. They fight a little harder.”

Opilka played last season for the U.S. Under-18 Team as part of the U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He went 25-7-0 with a 2.77 goals-against average, .833 save percentage and three shutouts. One of those victories included a 4-1 victory over the Badgers at the Kohl Center last December. He also was part of the U.S. Under-18 Team that captured the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Under-18 Championship this past spring.

While Opilka was in Florida, Wisconsin sophomore forward Cameron Hughes was out on a boat in Madison with some of his Badger teammates enjoying a perfect summer day. He found out he was drafted in the sixth round by the Boston Bruins on his phone.

“It is one of the steps as a hockey player. Everyone hopes to be drafted and I was lucky enough to get picked,” Hughes said. “I was really excited and honored to be picked by such an historic franchise. Going forward, I'm just really excited for the opportunity.”

Hughes tied for the Badgers' freshman scoring lead last season, posting three goals and 13 points in 34 games. Given much responsibility as a rookie, he returns to UW tied for the second-leading returning-scoring spot, so his contributions should rise.

“The phone blew up afterward with everyone congratulating me,” Hughes stated. “It is nice to see all the support. I thank everyone along the way from people back home to people in Wisconsin and anybody I've met on the way.”

The Edmonton, Alberta, native is a product of the AJHL's Spruce Grove Saints, but now has the potential to take his game further east than Madison, when the time comes to become a professional.

Boston is a city familiar to Hughes because of his NHL rooting interests, as well as a trip there when he was determining where his college hockey career would take him.

“When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup against Vancouver, I was rooting against Vancouver as an Edmonton guy, so I was cheering for the Bruins then,” Hughes remarked. “I've been to Boston once on a school trip. Went to a Red Sox game. It's a beautiful city and beautiful town. I'm just really excited and honored to go to a great place. I'm wearing a Red Sox hat right now. I got it on my trip to Boston when I went to the game at Fenway.”

Hughes is just the second Badger to get picked by the Bruins, joining 1985 11th-round pick John Byce, who went 220th to Boston. Byce ended up with a short NHL career in Boston, including the Bruins 1990 run to the Stanley Cup finals months after captaining the Badgers to the 1990 NCAA title.

With the picks of Opilka and Hughes, 151 Badgers have now been chosen in the NHL draft since Jeff Rotsch was picked in 1970.

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