The Penguins don't exactly have an extensive history of German players. They've only had two individuals on the roster who were born in Deutschland with Randy Gilhen and Sven Butenschon. Heck, there have only been 21 players in NHL history who were born in either Germany or East Germany.
So the selection of right winger Tom Kuehnhackl (above) in the fourth round of last month's draft was a bit historic. He is the second German to be drafted by the club after Butenschon in 1994. (When told of this, Kuehnhackl asked in disbelief, "Really?!?")
And despite living 4,326 miles east of Pittsburgh in Landshut, Germany, the capital of Lower Bavaria, Kuehnhackl (pronounced "KOO-knock-el") was a Penguins fan growing up. So his drafting was a realization of a dream as well as a historical footnote.
Kuehnhackl, 18, is the son of Erich Kuehnhackl (right), arguably the greatest hockey player in the history of Germany. A member of the IIHF Hall of Fame, Erich - who has been described as "the Wayne Gretzky of Germany" - was selected as Germany's player of the century in 2000.
Tom Kuehnhackl, who speaks superb English, appeared in 38 games last season for the Landshut Cannibals (What a name) of the German league's second division and scored 21 points (12 goals, nine assists). He is expected to play with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires next season. Windsor has won the past two Memorial Cup championships.
He chatted about his Penguins fandom, getting drafted and hockey in Germany during the team's development camp Wednesday.
On being a Penguins fan:
"Last season, I think I watched like 80 (Penguins) games. When I was young, it was my dream to play in Pittsburgh. They were my favorite team. The dream comes true. Everything is great. The team, management, the rink, the city, everything is perfect."
On being drafted by his favorite team:
"First of all, I didn’t realize it. I was still sitting in my chair and I was looking like, ‘The Penguins said my name…? I can’t believe it.'”
On the camp:
"I think I’m the youngest player (here) so I try to play my best hockey in every workout. On ice, off ice, I try to work my (butt) off. And maybe I can one day have the chance to play for the Penguins."
On his goals for the 2010-11 season:
"For sure, I hope I’m having a good camp right now and in other camps. I’ll play next season in Windsor, but maybe who knows… I’ll get the chance to play in Pittsburgh."
His favorite Penguins:
"Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. These two players, they were unbelievable. And now there’s (Sidney) Crosby-(Evgeni) Malkin."
Any German players he idolizes:
"Sure, (Bruins forward) Marco Sturm. He’s born in a city that’s like half an hour away. Maybe… I can be like him one day and play in the NHL."
On Germany's fourth-place finish in this year's IIHF World Championships, the country's best showing ever in an international tournament:
"First of all, I think nobody expected it because Germany’s not really a hockey country. The last 10 years, they never had a good tournament. Then they were in fourth place. Nobody expected it but they played a really, really good tournament."
On attending the games which were held in Germany:
"Yeah I watched it with my a dad and a friend of mine. It was a huge atmosphere. I watched every game live at the rink. I was going there with my dad because he was on TV every day."
On attending the tournament opener, a Germany-United States match held in Veletin Arena, a soccer stadium in Gelsenkirchen, in front of a record 77,803 fans (right):
"You’re one guy in there and you’re watching around and see everybody yelling, “Let’s Go Germany!” It’s just great."
(Photos: Tom Kuehnhackl-Harry How/Getty Images; Erich Kuehnhackl-Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images; Lemieux and Jagr-Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press; Veletin Arena-Uli Englhart)