For the first time ever, the pick is in for Utah.

Utah Hockey Club made its first-ever selection in the NHL draft Friday, one that league commissioner Gary Bettman called “historic,” selecting Kelowna Rockets (Western Hockey League) center Tij Iginla at No. 6.

“It’s a huge honor for sure. ... It would have been a surreal feeling to hear my name called by any team, but to be the first pick of a franchise is really cool as well,” Iginla said.

In his second season for the Rockets in the Western Hockey League — the highest tier of junior hockey in Canada — Iginla led the team in goals with 47, which ranked No. 6 in the WHL.

The 6-foot, 186-pound 17 year-old also added 37 assists over 64 games played for the Rockets in a breakout season.

“Yeah, they helped me a ton. I think they gave me a lot of opportunity and gave me some rope to work with and yeah, I’ve been super appreciative of the coaches and my teammates and the management as well,” Iginla said.

Iginla is the son of 20-year NHL veteran Hall of Fame wing Jarome Iginla, who also won a gold medal with Canada during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games, scoring two goals in the gold medal game.

Tij Iginla has quite a ways to go to match his father’s 625 career NHL goals, but he shares his dad’s propensity for scoring. The versatile forward can play both the center and winger positions, and the ESPN draft broadcast highlighted his elusive skating ability and his decision making.

The younger Iginla’s speed and puck handling, combined with his scoring and finishing ability, vaulted him up the draft board.

“He’s an amazing kid and I think when you get to know him and watch his talent level. He’s a shooter. He’s a shooter, make no mistake, but he’s got a special aspect about it,” general manager Bill Armstrong said.

“And he’s also just an unbelievable kid that loves hockey and that’s the type of kid we want to draft to Utah. He’s got a ways to go, but what you see there in the rawness, he’s got some room to grow, a lot of room to grow.”

Iginla’s recent performance in Canada’s 6-4 gold medal win over the United States at the 2024 IIHF World Under-18 Championships provided a glimpse of why he was drafted so highly, as he assisted two goals, then scored a wrist shot of his own.

But how long will it be until Iginla wears the black, white and mountain blue Utah sweater he donned at the NHL draft on the Delta Center ice?

Unlike the NBA, where lottery picks are expected to contribute right away, it might be a little bit until Iginla takes the ice for Utah, even with an NHL family pedigree and experience in Canada’s top junior hockey league.

It depends on how he fares in the minor leagues and the timeline that Armstrong has for the young forward, but Iginla has set a goal for himself to be in the big show in 2025.

“I’d like to play a full year as a 19 year-old. I mean, it’s hard to say right now. I haven’t shared the ice with actual NHL guys yet, so it’s hard to know exactly where I’m at right now, but I mean, yeah, that’s kind of a baseline goal I have for myself basically,” Iginla said.

Ryan Smith touts Utah’s strength as the NHL’s newest market
Utah Hockey Club trades into first round, selects center Cole Beaudoin with No. 24 pick
Utah Hockey Club’s first draft pick is the son of a hockey legend

Earlier this week, Armstrong emphasized the role of development for Utah’s draft picks.

“Sometimes you can walk away with somebody that high and they can jump right into your lineup and play. We’re at the point right now where we really want to develop our players,” Armstrong said in a pre-draft media availability on Tuesday.

“Not to say that they won’t have an opportunity to come in and make our team in camp, but for the most part what you’re seeing there is going to be an impact player at some point in time in their career, but it takes them a little bit of time and development to go through and that’s part of our process that we’ve tried to usher into our organization with so many young guys.”

Back in Salt Lake City, fans at a watch party at the Delta Center reacted positively, cheering the selection of Iginla.

Armstrong and owners Ryan and Ashley Smith were on the stage at the Sphere in Las Vegas to announce the pick, and Armstrong even gave a shoutout to fans at the watch party back in Utah as the trio was being booed by some fans in attendance in Las Vegas.

The boos couldn’t possibly dampen the moment for Ryan Smith, who was representing the club for the first time at a major NHL event and received a birthday shoutout on stage from Bettman.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled that this is happening, but I will tell you that if you would have told me in February that we would be sitting here right now at the draft, I would have said you were crazy,” Smith said at a pre-draft press conference in Las Vegas.

“But this is kind of what we do. We know that the state’s ready. We’re ready, and today’s a big moment and a milestone for everything that we’ve been working on.”

How Utah Hockey Club put together its current roster

Being the first-ever draft pick for Utah Hockey Club — UHC did not inherit the Winnipeg Jets/Arizona Coyotes history, and though they have all of Arizona’s players and management, are considered a new franchise — is a monumental moment for Iginla, and a milestone for the franchise.

“It’s the first time, the first moment, but more than that, there’s a family and a kid who’s worked his entire life to get to this moment, and he gets to be the very first draft pick in the Utah franchise history. … That’s a pretty cool story to be able to tell,” Smith said.

View Comments

The NHL whirlwind for Iginla is just starting. He will be in Salt Lake City on Sunday for an introductory press conference and is expected to participate in Utah’s developmental camp at the Delta Center July 1-5.

For tonight, though, he’ll take it all in and enjoy the moment.

“I mean, first and foremost, just enjoy the day,” Utah winger Dylan Guenther said. “I mean you’ve worked your whole life for it. So much anticipation, so have fun, enjoy it.”

Iginla’s Team Canada teammate, center Cole Beaudoin, will join him in Utah after UHC traded with the Colorado Avalanche to get back into the first round and draft him with the 24th overall pick.

Tij Iginla poses after being selected by the Utah Hockey Club
Tij Iginla, center, poses after being selected by the Utah Hockey Club during the first round of the NHL hockey draft Friday, June 28, 2024, in Las Vegas. | Steve Marcus
Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.