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Jack Dougherty. Photo by Tom Sorensen

 

Ryan McDonagh, Matt Niskanen, Nick Leddy, Paul Martin, Erik Johnson, Alex Goligoski, Jordan Leopold.

Minnesota has been producing some top-notch hockey defensemen lately.

Where will Jack Dougherty, selected in the second round of the NHL draft by the Nashville Predators on June 28, fit in?

“I want to be the next one,” said Dougherty, who was born in Cottage Grove and played high school hockey for St. Thomas Academy.

Dougherty, who skipped his senior year at St. Thomas to play for the under-18 U.S. national team development program this past season, was picked 51st overall in the draft.

“Every second I get happier about it,” Dougherty said. “It’s a dream come true.”

Dougherty, 18, grew up a fan of Detroit Red Wings great Nicklas Lidstrom. More recently, though, former Predators and current Wild star Ryan Suter was his favorite player to watch.

But, now that they will be rivals in the Western Conference’s Central Division — Nashville finished sixth last season, two places behind the Wild — things apparently have to change.

“They told me I can’t be a fan of his anymore,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty said Nashville, which took four forwards and three defensemen in the draft, was “a good place with good young players.”

“I love country music, so it should work out,” Dougherty said.

The 6-2, 185-pound Dougherty scored six goals and added 18 assists in 55 games for the U.S. U18 team last season. He also helped the United States win gold at the under-18 world championship in April, notching two goals and two assists in seven games.

Dougherty, 18, is a big two-way defenseman with a strong all-around game and skating ability. He was ranked 29th among North American prospects in Central Scouting’s midterm rankings before the draft.

“In terms of defending, he’s hard to play against, he’s got some fight to his game,” said David Westby, the Predators’ North American amateur scout. He reminds me a little bit of Matt Niskanen. He’s a good athlete on skates and a solid hockey player.”

Before he hits the NHL, Dougherty will play for the University of Wisconsin.

He has been in Madison the past three weeks, skating during summer school to get ready for his first college season.

Despite growing up a University of North Dakota fan and being from Minnesota, Dougherty said the Badgers’ campus “felt like home.”

“It’s a great team and a great coaching staff,” Dougherty said. “I hope to contribute right away and win a national championship.”

Dougherty grew up playing in the Cottage Grove Athletic Association. At St. Thomas Academy, he played on teams that won the Class 1A state championship during his sophomore and junior seasons.

“It was a great spot and a good school,” Dougherty said. “It made me a good player and a good young man. Deciding to leave was the toughest thing I’ve had to do.

“Developmentally, the national team was the thing I wanted to do. It opened eyes of NHL teams. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”

More than 230 Minnesotans have been selected to play in the NHL. Dougherty is expected to add to the list in the near future.

When he does get to Nashville, Dougherty likely will have one of Minnesota’s finest in his corner. South St. Paul native Phil Housley, the highest-scoring American-born defenseman and fourth-highest scoring defenseman in NHL history, is an assistant with the Predators.

Dougherty said what sets his state apart is the passion for the game among Minnesotans.

“There’s just something special about Minnesota,” Dougherty says. “It runs in the blood.”

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