By Darren Steinke on September 26, 2013.
Tommy Vannelli has arrived, and now he is waiting for his time to play.
The 18-year-old defenceman, who was selected in the second round and 47th overall by the St. Louis Blues in June’s NHL Entry Draft, was at his first Medicine Hat Tigers practice Wednesday as a non-participant.
As the Tigers are still going through paperwork to get the Minnetonka, Minn., product’s release from USA Hockey, Vannelli wasn’t able to take part in practice. He watched it for a bit and then waited to skate after practice concluded.
Vannelli said he has received a warm welcome from the other Tigers players.
“They’ve been great,” said Vannelli. “It is tough probably being in a situation welcoming a new guy to the team.
“They have been really great to me, so I appreciate them for that.”
Vannelli had a whirlwind campaign last season. He started playing for Team Northwest in the Upper Midwest Elite League, which runs in the fall. From there, he joined his high school team in Minnetonka before ending up on USA Hockey’s national team development program.
He helped the States win silver at the world under-18 championships in April.
Vannelli had originally committed to playing for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, but his feelings about where he wanted to be changed when the Blues made him their first draft selection.
“I didn’t like where I was at,” said Vannelli. “It was nothing personal. I just didn’t like the situation I was in.
“I looked into Medicine Hat. They have a great coaching staff and a great team. It was just the perfect opportunity for me.”
Vannelli wanted to start playing a hockey schedule that was like that of the NHL’s. Joining the Tigers proved to be the perfect opportunity.
“It is a big part of it just getting used to the NHL schedule,” said Vannelli. “Everybody that plays in this league that is their end goal.
“For me, that was huge. It might take some adjustment, but once I get used to it, I think it will be good.”
The offensive defenceman knew the Tigers have had good success with players coming from the United States and specifically the state of Minnesota.
Vannelli also gained some confidence when he recently found out that the Tigers were the WHL team Tyler Pitlick played for. Pitlick also left the U.S. college ranks for the WHL.
Pitlick, who is a centre from Centerville, Minn., played for the Tigers in the 2010-11 campaign before he signed an NHL entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers. Vannelli heard Pitlick improved a lot and hopes to undergo a similar improvement curve.
“Just being here with the coaches and the players I am going to skate with, that alone is going to help me improve a lot along with the schedule,” said Vannelli. “I hope I look back and realize it was a good choice coming here.”
Overage left-winger Boston Leier is one of the Tigers veterans who was happy to see Vannelli land in Medicine Hat. Leier said his first impressions of Vannelli were really good, when the rearguard made a visit to the team.
“He was really a nice guy,” said Leier. “I got to spend some time with him.
“When we heard he made his final decision to come here to Medicine Hat, we were all really excited. He is an unbelievable player, and you can never have too many of those on your team. It will just be really exciting to have him (here).”
It is still uncertain if Vannelli’s release will be obtained in time for the Tigers road game on Friday against the Oil Kings in Edmonton.
The defenceman does want to hit the ice to keep making strides towards the NHL. He was at the draft in Newark, N.J., but he wants to have more memories associated with the professional ranks.
“It was an honour just to hear your name called,” said Vannelli. “To be a part of the draft was huge.
“It was a nice day for my family and I, but it is not the end goal.”
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