Vees wooing top NHL draft prospect

The Penticton Vees organization is hoping that an exciting young talent will plant his skates firmly in the Okanagan once he gets a taste on Thursday.

The Penticton Vees are hoping Mario Lucia

The Penticton Vees are hoping Mario Lucia

The Penticton Vees organization is hoping that an exciting young talent will plant his skates firmly in the Okanagan once he gets a taste on Thursday.

Mario Lucia will be visiting with the Vees, viewing their facilities and the community as he uses the trip to Penticton to make a decision if he will be playing here or in Des Moines, home of the United States Hockey League Buccaneers, for the next step in his bright career.

Lucia is projected by many to be one of the first of the high school players chosen in the 2011 Entry Draft in St.Paul, Minnesota this June.

According to the left-winger was rated 34th on NHL Central Scouting’s final list of North American skaters. Lucia, a power forward, had 25 goals and 47 points in 24 games with the Wayzata High School Trojans in Minnesota. His father, Don Lucia, is going into his 12th season as the head coach at the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.

“When Mario Lucia has the puck on his stick, he makes everyone else better,” Central Scouting’s Jack Barzee told “When he’s got the puck inside the blue line, he’s a threat to score or set up a picturesque play … He’s that dangerous.”

The 17-year-old was at the NHL combine last week as one of six high school standouts invited.

“I mean, everyone wants to be drafted in the first round and it would be a dream to go in the first round, but my expectations, are, hopefully, early second,” Lucia told “Either way, being drafted is an honour. It doesn’t really mean anything at this point since you still have to work your way up there.”

And the Vees hope the young star will continue to improve his game in one of their uniforms next season.

“When you are rated 34th by NHL Central Scouting it is obvious you have many options to choose from. We are very excited Mario is visiting our program, and has narrowed his selection down to being a member of Vees or playing for Des Moines in the USHL,” said Vees GM and head coach Fred Harbinson. “Mario’s combination of size and skill can not be overlooked. I am hopeful he will realize, like so many high profile players before him, that Penticton will be a great stepping stone in his hockey career.”

If he does choose to join the Vees, he will be alongside a few other Minnesota players. In May, the Vees announced brothers Connor, Ryan and Mike Reilly committed to joining for the 2011-2012 season.

Twins Connor and Ryan, who will play as 20-year-olds this season, both suited up with the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL, while Mike, the youngest entering his 18-years-old season, skated at Shattuck St. Mary’s High School in Minnesota. Mike finished with 48 points in 54 games and is rated 52nd among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting for the upcoming June NHL Entry Draft.

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