PITTSBURGH – When you play in the ultra-competitive Ontario Hockey League, you're on the path to get ready for the NHL. Amherst's Dylan Blujus has some added family ties that have helped him get ready for the big time as well.
His sister, Brittany, is a former Buffalo Jill who is married to Dan Gronkowski, part of the trio of Gronkowski brothers who have cracked the NFL.
Blujus said here Saturday he's had plenty of talk with the Gronkowski brothers about the crazy world of pro sports. Now he's a part of it after the Tampa Bay Lightning took the defenseman from the Brampton Battalion with the 40th overall pick of the NHL draft, the 10th of the second round.
"It's exciting to be a part of that family with their craziness," said Blujus, 18. "I get a little taste of the NFL right there and now I can give them a little taste of the NHL."
What has Dan Gronkowski's advice been?
"You have to work for everything and nothing comes easy," said Blujus, whose name is pronounced BLUE-juice. "Once you get drafted is where all the work begins. They've always given me good advice."
Blujus is a 6-foot-3, 193-pounder who was fourth on Brampton's team this season with 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists). He was the 71st-rated North American skater by NHL Central Scouting and is considered strong on the puck and solid on the power play.
"Our guys really like his size," said Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman. "He's a right-shot defenseman and we have a real need for it. [The Tampa scouts] have liked him all year long.
"He's good on the power play, good skater, really good potential for a young guy if he fills out and he will fill out. We're very pleased to get him. He's got good hockey sense, good skills, He'll be a good power-play guy."
Wearing a blue Tampa Bay sweater with the team's 20th anniversary lightning bolt logo on his right shoulder, Blujus said he was happy his wait to be picked was a short one.
"Coming in here, I was thinking second or third round," Blujus said. "I had a good talk with Tampa Bay [at the NHL Combine in Toronto] so that was one of the teams on my radar. I was very happy coming in."
Blujus said Lightning officials told him a right-handed defenseman was a priority and he was thrilled to be their choice.
"They have a great guy in Steve Yzerman right there," he said. "With a world-class guy like that anything can happen. They definitely have a great team with [NHL goal leader] Steven Stamkos and everyone around him. ... I didn't want to get my hopes up with them too much, but I definitely thought I had a chance with them when it was their turn."
Blujus has an extensive minor hockey background in Western New York. He played two seasons with the Wheatfield Blades under Peter Scamurra, a former star in Amherst who played for the Washington Capitals in the 1970s. He played with the Buffalo Regals in 2009-10 before being drated into the OHL while he was attending Canisius High School.
"I always played up in age groups," he said. "Coming out of Western New York, I always knew I could play with older guys and I wanted to show that I could [in the OHL]. I always felt I did pretty well with that."
Blujus' favorite team, of course, is the Sabres and he lists Tyler Myers as his favorite player. He also attended the Sabres' private combine after the league-sponsored one.
"I definitely thought it was possible with Buffalo being the hometown kid," Blujus said. "I really thought anything could happen but I'm really happy to be with Tampa Bay."
Blujus has relatives a few hours from Tampa in Fort Lauderdale and could land in a year or two in Syracuse, which was announced last week as Tampa Bay's new AHL affiliate after the Lightning moved out of Norfolk. Norfolk won the Calder Cup as AHL champions.
"It's a great change in temperature right there [from Buffalo to Tampa]," Blujus said. "You can't be mad about that."