Aaron Ward has seen the University of Michigan men's hockey program grow prestigiously since his last games as a Wolverine in 1993. The national championships and Frozen Four appearances. The "Children of Yost" in the stands at their fabled home arena, and their growing number of alumni in the NHL, from Max Pacioretty to Zach Werenski to Quinn Hughes.
What he wants to see now is the program make NHL draft history.
No NCAA team has ever had three current players taken in the first round. With defenseman Owen Power, center Matty Beniers and center Kent Johnson all projected to be top-10 picks, that record will fall to Michigan on Friday night.
"I'm incredibly excited for them. This is catapulting the program to an entirely different level, just based on the draft," said Ward, who went on to play 839 games in the NHL and won two Stanley Cups. "You equate it to Alabama in football and Kentucky in basketball. If you can get yourself [to Michigan], it will catapult you towards playing in the National Hockey League."
There's more history to be made for the Wolverines. If Power and Beniers are drafted first and second overall by the Buffalo Sabres and Seattle Kraken respectively, it will mark the first time since 1969 that the same team produced the first two picks in the draft. It would be the second time in draft history two NCAA players filled the top two picks, the last time being Rick DiPietro and Dany Heatley in 2000.
If either are taken first overall, it would make just the fourth time an NCAA player was selected with the top pick.
When defenseman Luke Hughes, a Michigan recruit, is drafted, it will mark only the third time in draft history that the same NCAA team will have hit the board four times in the first round with current players and recruits.
Needless to say, this class of Michigan hockey prospects is in a class by itself.
"I could see them go one, two, three and four, to tell you the truth," coach Mel Pearson said. "And any of those guys could be No. 1."