Andrew Strathmann follows long hockey journey from Chicago suburbs to NHL Draft

Strathmann — a defenseman from Beach Park — headlines this year’s list of draft prospects with Chicago connections, but River Forest-raised defenseman Paul Fischer isn’t far behind. From the Chicago Steel junior program, meanwhile, forward Jayden Perron headlines the list.

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Illinois native Andrew Strathmann helped the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms win a championship this season.

Illinois native Andrew Strathmann helped the USHL’s Youngstown Phantoms win a championship this season.

Scott Galvin/Youngstown Phantoms

Growing up in Beach Park, a town of 14,000 just north of Waukegan, Andrew Strathmann wasn’t surrounded by the most robust hockey culture.

That made his journey to this point, as an 18-year-old defenseman projected to land in the second or third round of the NHL Draft on June 28-29, particularly challenging — and his USHL championship with the Youngstown Phantoms this season particularly rewarding.

Strathmann, who will return to Youngstown next season but is committed to the University of North Dakota for the years beyond, headlines a group of seven Chicago-area natives listed in the Central Scouting Service’s final draft rankings. He’s the 44th-ranked North American skater.

Paul Fischer, a defenseman from River Forest committed to Notre Dame, is ranked 58th. Michael DeAngelo, a forward from Itasca heading to Michigan State, is ranked 82nd. Zack Sharp, a forward from Naperville heading to Western Michigan, is ranked 137th.

Joey Willis, a forward from Elmhurst playing for the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, is ranked 174th. Chris Able, a defenseman from Libertyville heading to Ohio State, is ranked 185th. And Owen Flores, a goaltender from Antioch playing for the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, is the 27th-ranked goalie.

This comes after three Chicago-area natives heard their names called in the 2022 draft, including Lane Hutson, the Canadiens’ second-round pick from Barrington, who quickly has risen in value. Jack Devine and Brennan Ali, two forwards from Glencoe, went in the seventh round (to the Panthers and Red Wings, respectively).

Strathmann’s bright future

Strathmann’s convoluted journey through Illinois youth hockey to the verge of the draft actually began in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.

After starting there, he graduated to teams in Gurnee and Highland Park before joining the Chicago Mission AAA program as a 13-year-old in 2018-19. He spent two years with the Mission, then another with the Chicago Young Americans AAA program.

Strathmann eventually moved to the USHL’s Tri-City Storm (in Nebraska) in 2021-22 and finally the USHL’s Phantoms (in Ohio) this season. There, he reunited with coach Ryan Ward, who previously had worked with him in Chicago.

Strathmann had 38 points in 56 regular-season games for the Phantoms, then another seven points in nine playoff games.

‘‘Coming over to Youngstown, I didn’t really know what to expect,’’ he said. ‘‘But it was one of the best years of my life. It helps having great teammates, and that helps your own progress — when you have guys coming to the rink every day who work as hard as you.’’

From an NHL perspective, Strathmann is slightly undersized at 5-11 and 190 pounds, but his skating stands out as an elite skill. He uses it to defend well and to excel in transition.

‘‘I’m a two-way defenseman, someone who’s going to get up in the play and try to create off the rush but [also who] takes care of his own zone and wants to defend first,’’ he said.

He probably could make more of an impact offensively — only three of his 38 points were goals — and he plans to work this summer on his playmaking inside the blue line.

But he’s unquestionably one of the better defensemen in a draft class in which most of the hype stems from its forwards. CSS ranks him the 10th-best North American defenseman; The Athletic ranks him the 20th-best defenseman of any nationality and 63rd overall.

The Blackhawks, given their focus on forwards, are an unlikely landing spot, but Strathmann nonetheless shouldn’t last too long on the second day of the draft.

‘‘That’s something you don’t really think about,’’ he said. ‘‘Wherever I get drafted, it doesn’t matter; whenever I get drafted, it doesn’t matter. You’ve still got to play hockey next year.’’

Fischer in the mix

Not far behind Strathmann in most rankings is fellow area-bred defenseman Fischer. The two actually overlapped with the Mission.

Fischer will head to the draft riding high after helping the United States win the under-18 world championship in April in Switzerland. He’s projected by CSS to be the sixth prospect from that team, which upset Sweden in overtime in the gold-medal game, to hear his name called.

‘‘We all knew it was our last time together,’’ Fischer said. ‘‘[Given] all the memories that we had for our lifetime, I can’t even put it into words yet. It hasn’t even really hit me that we won.’’

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Paul Fischer spent the last two seasons with the USNTDP.

Rena Laverty/USA Hockey

Having grown up chasing his older brothers around the rinks of the West Side, Fischer has since developed into a well-rounded defenseman with the U.S. National Team Development Program, where he spent the last two seasons.

He takes pride in being reliable in ‘‘any scenario,’’ he said. He particularly improved this year on angling opponents into unfavorable situations, then stopping them there and killing the plays.

Perron tops Steel class

The Steel — the Geneva-based perennial junior-hockey powerhouse — were eliminated by Strathmann’s Youngstown team in the USHL semifinals this year, but they have a star-in-the-making in 16-year-old forward Macklin Celebrini.

Celebrini led the Steel with 86 points in 50 games, and the Vancouver native is the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the draft next year.

In the meantime, forward Jayden Perron (ranked 43rd) headlines the Steel’s Class of 2023 draft-eligible players. That list also includes defensemen Michael Hagens (103rd) and Able (185th), as well as two overage prospects in forward Jack Harvey (146th) and defenseman Jake Livanavage (181st) who weren’t selected last year.

Three Steel products were drafted last year: forwards Nick Moldenhauer (Maple Leafs, third round) and Zam Plante (Penguins, fifth round) and defenseman Hunter McDonald (Flyers, sixth round).

Perron_2.jpg

Jayden Perron is the Chicago Steel’s top 2023 draft-eligible player.

Chicago Steel Hockey Team

Perron, a right wing, plays a different position than Strathmann but, like Strathmann, is undersized (5-9, 163 pounds), is headed to North Dakota (next season, in his case) and boasts elite skating ability.

At Perron’s size, he will need to be fantastic offensively to reach the NHL, and the Winnipeg native has measured up so far. He produced 72 points in 61 regular-season games and another six points in six playoff games for the Steel, improving upon his 45-point performance in 2021-22. His skating was a crucial part of that.

‘‘You see what it’s like in the NHL: Everyone is extremely fast and has great edgework,’’ Perron said. ‘‘That’s a big thing you need to play at the next level. I’m very happy with that. We work on [skating] a lot at the Steel.’’

Projections for where he will be drafted vary widely. Some rankings put him among the top 20 overall, whereas The Athletic has him slotted 107th.

Perron’s test results at the scouting combine next week might help woo some on-the-fence NHL organizations, and he plans to focus on gaining weight and strength this summer — six weeks of which will be spent training at North Dakota before his freshman year.

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