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The 'Yao Ming of Hockey'? NHL Drafts First Chinese-Born Player

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Beijing: The news of the first Chinese player drafted into the U.S. professional ice hockey league will be a big boost to the game in China, a leading sports official said, as the country awaits the outcome of Beijing’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

He can be “the Yao Ming of Chinese ice hockey,” the official told NBC News.

Andong Song, an 18-year-old native of Beijing, became the first player from China to ever get drafted by the National Hockey League. He was selected by the New York Islanders with the No. 172 pick in the draft on Saturday.

“His selection has been the dream of several generations of ice hockey players in China,” said Yu Tiande, ice hockey chief of China’s ministry of sports and head of the country’s hockey team.

"It will drive many parents to care for the sport and support hockey players, he said. “I expect the country will send more players to train in North America."

China is generally weak in winter sports, with only 3 gold medals won at the last Winter Olympics, compared to 13 for Russia and 9 for the United States. China ranked 12th in overall medal standing.

Related: Isles make Andong Song the NHL’s first Chinese-born draft pick

The government hopes that a successful bid to host the Winter Olympics will popularize winter sports.

The official said the NHL draft will have a “positive impact” on Beijing’s bid, which will be decided next month.

Some observers, however, point to the market-opening potential of the NHL draft.

“I can see that NHL will size up the China market again, as more professional teams engage Chinese broadcasters and businesses for greater market promotion and endorsement deals,” blogged Yang Wang, a magazine editor.

--Michael Jiang contributed to this report