U star 7th pick in NHL draft

Nick Doty

Gophers hockey player Erik Rasmussen traveled to St. Louis for Saturday’s NHL draft knowing he would be among the top 10 overall picks.
There wasn’t much pressure on the 6-foot-2-inch, 191-pound forward because he was considered a top prospect for the NHL by Central Scouting.
Still, Rasmussen was drained and asleep late Sunday afternoon after feeling the emotional effects of being selected seventh overall in the draft by the Buffalo Sabres. He was the first U.S. player chosen.
“It feels great and it’s a big honor (to be the first American drafted),” Rasmussen said. “But I’m just glad I was drafted. I’m a little tired, so I guess I haven’t realized what this all means yet.”
Rasmussen enjoyed an impressive rookie year for the Gophers last season. He was third on the team in scoring behind Hobey Baker Award winner Brian Bonin and All-American Mike Crowley. He was named to the WCHA All-Rookie team after posting 16 goals and 32 assists for 48 total points.
“He’s amazing to watch, and it doesn’t surprise me to see him go so high,” Crowley said. “He’s very deserving of the pick.”
Rasmussen’s parents also attended the draft with their son and expressed much of his joy.
“It’s an outstanding feeling. No one can predict when these kids are growing up,” Erik’s father Don Rasmussen said. “Every parent wants their kid to make it to the pros.”
Don said he began to feel Erik could make the NHL after watching his progress during his senior year of high school. Erik’s father was evidently not the only one impressed with his son’s ability that year.
Erik’s credentials at St. Louis Park High School earned him Minnesota “Mr. Hockey” honors in 1995. He was also voted a high school All-American after his senior campaign.
His good size and statistics could have landed him in the NHL right out of high school, but he chose to accept a scholarship offer from the Gophers. In doing so, Rasmussen followed the footsteps of his uncle, Dale Rasmussen, who played hockey for the Gophers from 1960-61.
Although it’s probable Rasmussen will be offered anywhere from $500,000 to $750,000 to sign with the Sabres, he said he doesn’t know at this point whether he’ll turn professional. He said his decision depends on whatever Buffalo has planned for him.
“I’m open to any decision right now,” Rasmussen said. “I’m just going to continue working with the Gophers and see what happens.”
Buffalo decided to give Rasmussen two to three weeks off before starting contract negotiations.
Crowley, a junior defenseman, said Rasmussen’s decision will have a significant impact on the team. “He brings a lot to the team, and if we lost him, there would be some big shoes to fill,” Crowley said.
Crowley has also been entertained by NHL offers but said his professional plans do not depend on Rasmussen’s decision. “For me, if he signs, it wouldn’t matter,” Crowley said. “But I want him to stay.”
Crowley was drafted by the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth round of the 1994 draft and his rights were later traded to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. There has been speculation that Crowley might forgo his final two seasons of college eligibility.
Crowley said he plans to come back for his junior year and possibly his senior year, depending on future circumstances. He said he would listen to any offers made by the Mighty Ducks.
“Everything would have to be right and so it all depends on the timing of the situation,” Crowley said.
Gophers hockey coach Doug Woog could not be reached for comment.
Two other Gophers sophomores were selected in Saturday’s draft. Reggie Berg was taken in the seventh round by Toronto (178th overall). Mike Anderson was chosen two picks later by the Washington Capitals (180th overall). Berg and Anderson are both expected to return to the Gophers.