A touch of offense: Tri-City defenseman Lukas Dragicevic leads Americans in scoring through 20 games
KENNEWICK — The Tri-City Americans have had their share of top-tier defensemen over the years, and a handful of those players had a knack for putting their name in the scoring column.
Tyler Schmidt, Parker Wotherspoon, Zach Yuen and Dylan Coghlan are among those players, and this year, Lukas Dragicevic has added his name to the list.
In his second full year in the Western Hockey League, Dragicevic leads the Americans in scoring with 28 points — six goals (3 on the power play) and 22 assists. Forward Ethan Ernst is right behind with 27 points — 13 goals and 14 assists — heading into the Americans’ Nov. 23 home game with Kamloops.
“I was a forward my whole life until three years ago,” said Dragicevic, a native of Richmond, British Columbia. “I’ve always been an offensive guy. I have great teammates beside me to get those points, and the power play has been good.”
The switch to defense came when his Delta Hockey Academy team had a rash of injuries tear through its defense. The coach asked if anyone would like to change positions.
“I volunteered,” the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Dragicevic said. “I don’t regret it. I still work at it every day. I work on skating backward so I can trust it. I hope it becomes one of my strengths soon.”
Through Nov. 20, Dragicevic was ranked 13th in the WHL in scoring with 28 points. He ranks second among WHL defensemen in scoring. Prince George’s Hudson Thornton has 30 points (7-23-30).
He has scored in 14 consecutive games, starting with Tri-City’s game with Kamloops on Oct. 14, and ending with the Americans’ game at Kelowna on Nov.19.
“He has shown he can create offense with his speed and stick handling,” Tri-City coach Stu Barnes said. “He is trying to get better in his own end. He has a lot of passion for the game. He’s a good kid who plays hard and loves to be at the rink.”
Dragicevic has turned a few heads over the past 10 games. He was listed as a B-ranked skater in the October NHL Central Scouting preliminary list for the 2023 NHL Draft, but was upgraded to the A list on Nov. 21.
Those receiving an A ranking are considered a potential first-round NHL draft pick, while B-ranked skaters are considered a potential second-or-third-round selection.
“It’s nice to be noticed, but I try to keep those things out of my head,” Dragicevic said. “I just do the best I can for my team.”
Dragicevic also was named WHL Player of the Week for the week ending on November 6, 2022. He led all WHL defensemen that week with seven points (two goals, five assists) through four games, including an overtime game-winning goal against the Wheat Kings in Brandon.
The 17-year-old recently represented Team Canada at the 2022 IIHF World U18 Championship in Germany. He was one of only four 2005-born players on the roster, scoring once and adding two assists through four games at the tournament.
“That was one of the best experiences I have had playing hockey,” he said. “I played against some of the best players in the world, with some of the best players in the world. I learned a lot about myself when I was there.”
Like father like son
The name Dragicevic is familiar to Tri-City fans.
Milan Dragicevic, Lukas’ dad, played for the Americans when they came from New Westminster, British Columbia, in 1988.
Milan only played four games with the Americans once they came to Kennewick. He was traded to the Spokane Chiefs, where he played a year and half. He finished his WHL career with the Victoria Cougars.
After the WHL, he attended Acadia University in Nova Scotia, where he helped the Axemen to the 1992-93 CIAU championship.
Milan came back to Tri-City as an assistant coach from 1996-98, and was the first head coach of the Vancouver Giants, leading them to a Memorial Cup championship in 2007.
Milan is currently a coach at the Delta Hockey Academy.
Unlike his son, who rings up the points, Milan spent his fair share of time in the penalty box in the WHL — 754 penalty minutes in four seasons.
“I would not change my playing style for his,” Lukas said.
Dragicevic was taken No. 4 overall in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft. Being drafted by Tri-City was a comfortable fit for the young Dragicevic, who wears No. 2, just like his dad.
“My dad knew people in the organization here,” he said. “I love it here. There are great guys in the room, and the fans bring it every night.”
A big push before Christmas
The Americans (8-12-0-0) are sitting fourth in the U.S. Division with 16 points, and Dragicevic would like to see that improve by the WHL Christmas holiday break.
“We have seven in a row at home and that will be good for us,” he said. “I think we are going to win some games. We have been playing well as of late.”
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