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Rutger McGroarty grew up with the Lincoln Stars. Now, he's waiting to hear his name called during the NHL Draft

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Rutger McGroarty

Rutger McGroarty skates during a Team USA U18 match. McGroarty, who was born in Omaha but calls Lincoln home, hopes to be the first Nebraska-born player selected in the NHL Draft since 2013.

A young Rutger McGroarty used to stand at the center of the Ice Box with a dream on his mind.

He dreamed of wearing a Lincoln Stars uniform and playing in front of the home crowd. Watching the Star drop. Hearing public address announcer Craig Estudillo call his name — “And at center, from Lincoln, Nebraska, RUTGER McGROARTY!”

Those dreams never came to light for McGroarty, but the Ice Box and the Stars helped birth his love for hockey. It helped shape his play, too.

“I feel like that grew my love for the game of hockey,” McGroarty said. “Having that key to the rink and working with my dad (former Stars head coach and general manager Jim McGroarty) and friends at the Ice Box. It was definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life. Even being in that Lincoln Stars locker room. I feel like for an 8- to 10-year-old boy, not many kids get that opportunity, and I loved it.”

McGroarty has come a long way over the last decade and will likely hear his name called early in the 2022 NHL Draft on Thursday in Montreal.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Michigan commit is predicted as high as the 17th-overall pick in the first round, according to NHL.com's mock draft. McGroarty is also listed as going as low as 30th. Either way, his name will make history.

McGroarty will be the first Nebraska-born player selected in the NHL Draft since 2013 when Omaha native Jake Guentzel was selected in the third round (77th overall) by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the entry draft.

Only three other known Nebraska-born players have played in the NHL besides Guentzel. Johnny Matz (1924-25), Jed Ortmeyer (2003-12) and Nate Pionk, who is still active with the Winnipeg Jets, have all found time in the NHL. 

Rutger McGroarty

Rutger McGroarty skates during a Team USA U18 match. McGroarty, who was born in Omaha but calls Lincoln home, hopes to be the first Nebraska-born player selected in the NHL Draft since 2013.

McGroarty hopes to add his name to the list. Like the four other Nebraskans to play in the NHL, McGroarty, was born in Omaha, but if you ask him, he will say, “I'm a kid from Lincoln, Nebraska.”

The slick puck-handling McGroarty lived out another dream this past season by playing for the United States National Team Development program.

McGroarty captained Team USA U18 to a gold medal at the 2022 World Junior Championships, scoring eight goals in six games.

“Growing up that was always my goal to play for the Lincoln Stars,” McGroarty said. “Once I figured out about the U.S. National Team I wasn't sure what to do. My childhood dream was just playing for the Lincoln Stars one day, but you can't turn down an offer to play for your country.”

The U.S. team has had 283 former players selected in the NHL Draft, and that has helped ease the mind of McGroarty.

“We play for the national team, so you know there are going to be NHL scouts,” McGroarty said. “You know that there are going to be all these lists. It's something I don't try and focus on. I feel like if you go to the rink every single day and try to get 1% better every day, on draft day that someone is going to have trust in you and your name will get called.”

Round 1 begins Thursday at 6 p.m.

McGroarty is not the only player with ties to the Stars who may hear his name called. The Stars have had at least one selection in the last 11 NHL drafts.

Cameron Whitehead is ranked seventh among North American goaltenders in the final NHL Central Scouting Rankings and could become the first Stars' goaltender selected since Cayden Primeau was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in 2017.

A total of 37 former or current Stars players are eligible for the 2022 draft, including current Star Doug Grimes and former players Aidan Thompson and Dominic James.

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