NHL teams pick local teens in draft

Pair of skaters share pro pedigree and a desire to continue honing their skills

Becoming a first-round pick in last month's National League Hockey draft was gratifying for Hinsdale's Jacob Perreault.

"It's hard to believe. You dream of it as a kid, and to finally accomplish that goal of getting drafted is great," said Perreault, a right winger who has played the last two seasons for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League in Canada.

The 18-year-old said he's just warming up.

"My dream is to be a top-six player in the NHL and guy that makes a difference on the ice," Perreault remarked, citing Chicago Blackhawk Patrick Kane as an influence.

He watched the virtual Oct. 6 draft at his family's other home near Montreal, hearing the names of 26 players read before the Ducks came up in the 27th slot. As NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman requested the team's selection, Perreault had a sense this could be his moment.

"When I saw Anaheim come up to the podium and I saw it was (Ducks assistant general manager) Martin Madden, I thought they might call my name," he said.

Madden did, and the live broadcast cut to the Perreault family as they embraced one another. He praised his family, including dad and former NHL pro Adrian Aucoin, for their support.

"They've been with me every step of the way," he said. "(My dad) has been through it, so it's good to have him by my side."

In post-draft interviews, Madden detailed why the franchise set their sights on "pro-level sniper" Perreault.

"We want goal scoring, and he's a goal scorer. He's a powerful kid, really elusive power and ability to get away from people in the neutral zone," Madden said. "He finds open ice in the offensive zone and can score from anywhere. One-timer, off the rush, rebounds, tips. We've got nobody that plays like him, looks like him or scores like him."

Perreault said his shot and release are major assets. But he also takes pride in his decision-making.

"I see the ice really well," he said. "I have pretty good speed and agility, and that really has helped me get in the right spot" to score, he said.

In Sarnia, a community of about 72,000 just across the St. Clair River from Port Huron, Mich., Perreault and the Sting has a strong following.

"It's a small town so everyone knows each other," he said. "The fans have done so much for our team."

Last week Perreault finalized his contract and is heading to Anaheim for training.

"They're so involved in their player development, and they'll make sure that I get the best tools to keep improving my game," he said.

After that Perreault expects to begin his third season with Sarnia at training camp in January. He said the fact that fellow Hinsdalean Kyle Aucoin was also a 2020 draftee (sixth round by the Detroit Red Wings; see below) was a nice local connection.

"We've been pretty close friends growing up so we know each other pretty well," he said. "When I got drafted, the next day I watched the draft to see where he would go. It's great to see we both accomplished it the same time."

Perreault returned to Hinsdale last month - shooting pucks in the basement to keep sharp - and was touched by the neighbors and well-wishers who have reached out to him.

"I've gotten texts from all my friends, even some people I haven't talked to in a couple years," he said. "All those messages and congratulations from people is great."

Aucoin spreads Wings

Kyle Aucoin of Hinsdale is officially a prospect of the NHL's Detroit Red Wings after being drafted 156th overall on the second day of the NHL draft Oct. 7.

That's heady stuff, for sure. And as a Harvard University recruit, clearly his head is one of his top attributes.

"I'd say I'm a two-way player with both a strong offensive and defensive game," said Aucoin, a 18-year-old defenseman. "I like to use my brain to outsmart opponents on the ice."

He with his family glued to the draft coverage when his name popped up on the screen as a Red Wings pick during the sixth round.

"I think we kind of knew I was going to go around there, but we were still surprised and shocked and super happy," he said.

In 48 games as a rookie during the 2019-20 seasons with the United States Hockey League's Tri-City Storm in Kearney, Neb., Aucoin racked up 13 points and 22 penalty minutes. He was named the USHL Scholar-Athlete of the Year and honored as 2020 USHL All-Academic Team member. He completed his final year of high school in Nebraska and splits his time between Hinsdale and his hockey team's home base.

Before rising to the USHL, Aucoin skated for the Chicago Mission youth hockey team, playing against rival Little Caesars and its coach Kris Draper. Draper, now director of amateur scouting for the Red Wings, remembered Aucoin from those days.

"Just a terrific skater, a real competitive kid. We're excited to add him," Draper said of Aucoin at a post-draft press conference. The Red Wings also drafted Draper's son, Kienan, in the seventh round.

"(Little Caesars) was probably our biggest rival and played against (Draper's) son a ton of times growing up," he Aucoin said. "It was just a surreal moment."

Aucoin's father, Adrian, played in 1,108 NHL games with multiple teams, including the Chicago Blackhawks, from 1994 to 2013. Adrian said he's delighted for his son.

"He's worked his butt off, but it's all about having fun, too, which is one of primary reasons he's excelled," he said. "It's definitely a passion of his, and it's exciting to see that dream become reality."

Kyle said his dad blazed a trail that he wants to extend.

"Obviously I want to follow his path, and he's someone I really look up to," he said. "I want to be better than him one day."

He said earning his way onto the roster in "Hockeytown" will take commitment and grit.

"I couldn't be happier to be part of the Red Wings organization, and now I have to take the next step," he said.

Those steps lead first to Tri-City Storm, then to Cambridge to help Harvard win some titles.

"They've got a really good hockey program, and obviously it's a great school," he said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean