MUSKEGON – Tensions were high in the Mehlenbacher household in July during the second day of the National Hockey League draft.

Owen Mehlenbacher, his parents and his brother were sitting in front of the television, nervously waiting to see if his name would be called.

They finally decided they needed a change of scenery, so they went out to eat and continued to watch the draft on their cell phones.

Finally a call came in from his future college coach, telling Mehlenbacher that “something good might happen” very quickly.

A few minutes later he was selected in the seventh round by the Detroit Red Wings, and the family celebration began.

Muskegon Lumberjacks forward Owen Mehlenbacher

“My mom screamed out loud, right in the middle of the restaurant,” said Mehlenbacher, who spoke to on Tuesday during the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ Media Day. “It was great. Everybody was super excited. It was my dad’s birthday, too. He turned 49 that day.”

Mehlenbacher is one of five players on the Jacks’ roster who were NHL draft picks this year. The others are forwards Jake Richard and Michael Callow and defensemen George Fegaras and Matthew Morden.

As exciting as it was for Mehlenbacher to be drafted, he’s still a long way away from the NHL. His first order of business is playing his third and final season with the Lumberjacks this year before moving to the next step, Division 1 college hockey.

Mehlenbacher didn’t have to return to Muskegon this fall. He has a hockey scholarship waiting for him at the University of Wisconsin and could have joined the Badgers if he felt he was ready.

Mehlenbacher (18) races a Chicago player to the puck during a game last season.

But coming back was probably a wise choice for Mehlenbacher, because his experience in Muskegon has resulted in steady progress each year.

He spent his first season in 2000-2001 adjusting to the pace of Tier 1 junior hockey and only had eight goals and four assists.

Last year he took a major leap, turning in 17 goals and 25 assists. If that trend continues, 2022-23 should be a great season for Mehlenbacher.

“Month by month, I’ve gotten better,” he said. “Last year I started out real slow and the team struggled, but about halfway through the season we really picked it up and my game improved dramatically. Then we made a nice run through the playoffs and had a great time.

“I just decided that coming back for another year would help my development and put me in a stronger position to play college hockey. The goal of the Muskegon Lumberjacks is to develop young players, and they do a great job of it.”

Mehlenbacher (18) camps in front of the Chicago goal during a game last season.

Lumberjacks Coach Mike Hamilton was excited to learn that Mehlenbacher was returning, and said he expects the big 6-foot-2, 190-pound forward to be “dominant” this season.

Mehlenbacher said he thinks he’s up to that challenge, particularly with a strong cast of teammates around him.

The Jacks have a surplus of talented forwards returning from last year’s team, including Richard, Tyler Hotson, David Hymovitch, Ethan Whitcomb and several others.

“I am ready to be dominant, and the team is going to have a bunch of really good players this year,” Mehlenbacher said. “The forwards are going to be amazing. Knowing we are going to be good definitely factored into my decision to come back. We are going to have fun winning a lot of games.”

Next year Mehlenbacher will play at Wisconsin, with the goal of polishing his skills and impressing the decision-makers in Detroit.

Mehlenbacher battles through a mess of players for the puck last season.

Under NHL rules, teams can draft junior players like Mehlenbacher and maintain their rights for up to five years before signing them to pro contracts.

Mehlenbacher got a small taste of being a Red Wing this summer when he attended a team prospect camp at Little Caesars Arena. During the camp he spoke to General Manager Steve Yzerman, former Red Wings like Kris Draper and Dan Cleary, as well as the new Red Wings head coach, whose name momentarily escaped him.

For the record, it’s Derek Lalonde.

Despite that temporary lapse of memory, Mehlenbacher has done his homework on the Red Wings and believes they are headed in the right direction.

“Steve Yzerman is doing a great job of building that team to be a contender in a few years with a lot of young talent, and just being part of that is going to be great,” he said.

Mehlenbacher grew up in Ontario, not far from Buffalo, and was raised by his father to be a Boston Bruins fan.

But he realizes that most Lumberjacks fans are also Red Wings fans, and he’s more than ready to jump on the bandwagon.

“I kind of stuck with the Bruins growing up, but now I guess I have to be a Red Wings fan, and I’m definitely making the switch,” he said.