Do you remember your prom night? Wait—I should rephrase: do you remember your prom day? Do you remember the excitement that lasted all day? Do you remember taking a shower in the afternoon while your suit (or tux) patiently waited on a hanger? Maybe Mom helped iron your shirt? Maybe Dad took you aside and said, “no matter what happens, you’ll always remember tonight.” Maybe your little sister was excited and was taking 6.2 pictures per second for three hours straight. Grandma said you looked all grown up. A friend shares a look with you—and you know that he shares the same excitement pulsing through his veins.
That’s the part that no one tells you about the NHL Draft. TSN will talk about how Player A will fit into Team X’s organizational philosophy. International Scouting Services will tell you about the same player’s skating, passing ability, and shooting accuracy. Craig Button will tell you about his hockey IQ and Pierre McGuire will tell you where he played bantam hockey. But who tells you how the kid is feeling two hours before he shows up to CONSOL Energy Center for the biggest day of his budding professional career?
It’s never more apparent than when you’re actually at an NHL Entry Draft. You’ll see kids that look like they aren’t old enough to drive, wearing suits and trying to act like they’re older than their face reveals. These kids are 17 and 18 years old. Read that again: these kids are teenagers. Now think of a cousin, friend, or even friend’s child who is the same age. Can you imagine gambling millions of dollars on what kind of adult they’ll be? Forget gambling on what they’ll grow up to be—you’re gambling on how good they’ll be when they do it.
Not all the scouting and psychology tests in the world are going to make this a definitive science.
There’s no doubt that this will be the biggest weekend for 210 teenage hockey prospects in their young lives. Some will be excited because they’ll be selected before they were supposed to be picked. Others will experience some of the most grueling minutes/hours of their young careers. And if they expect to be picked in the first round and aren’t—they’ll have an entire evening to deal with the disappointment before the torturous cattle call resumes on Saturday morning.
A fascinating quality of the draft is that there will be 210 different experiences this weekend. Actually, there will be plenty more when we take into account the prospects that have NHL aspirations and are left without a professional seat when the draft music stops on Saturday afternoon. Everyone will share the nerves going into Friday night and some degree of suspense… and that’s about it. Some will be surprised to be picked earlier than expected. Some will learn how Cam Fowler felt when he dropped like a rock in 2010. Some will be drafted by the team they wanted to be drafted by. Some will hear their name called by a team that they didn’t get a good vibe from. Some will be selected by teams who they enjoyed meeting at the NHL Combine; some will be blindsided when they’re picked by a team that they thought hated them.
Some guys like Griffin Reinhart and Henrik Samuelsson can share the experience with their NHL alumni fathers. Goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban can share a knowing glance with his brother P.K. who was drafted five years ago. The NHL tree spreads its branches much further than potential first round prospects or former stars. Some prospects Brendan Gaunce and Spence Hyman can also look to their own family trees to see brothers who have recently be drafted.
Most importantly, there will be some who get to hear their name called—and some that won’t. Everyone has their own journey this weekend.
Either way, this weekend will be filled with some of the proudest moments for every family involved. After all, how many families can say that they’ve had a member drafted by an NHL organization?
Even after everyone has their individual journey this weekend, they’ll all end up back in the same place again. Yes, they all had the nerves. Yes, they all dealt with the suspense. But do you know what else is shared by everyone at the draft after this weekend? It’s that this is only the beginning. All of the hard work, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into becoming an NHL draftee is impressive. It’s great to accomplish a lifelong dream. But it’s only the beginning.
Now, the competition only gets harder. The vast majority of prospects will go right back to where they came from last year. Prospects that are playing in juniors will go back to their junior team next season. Prospects that are playing college hockey will go back to their campus when school resumes in the fall. Most will go to rookie camps (if teams are having rookie camps this summer) and will be given a strong dose of reality when they see how good their competition will be.
Here’s the dirty little secret that we all know, but hate to admit at this time of year: the draft is a crap shoot. No one definitively knows which players are going to be booms and which are going to be busts. If we did, neither Alexandre Daigle or Rick DiPietro would have gone first overall; neither Nicklas Lidstrom, nor Jonathan Quick have gone in the 3rd round. Scouts and executives are paid to make the best educated guesses possible—but in the end, we’re all just guessing.
For most of the players selected this weekend: this will be the highlight of their career. Unless this is like the 2003 Draft (which it’s not), there will be at least a few first round picks that never make it to the NHL. Third and fourth round draft picks? Their odds are even worse. Any prospect that takes any of this for granted will be left on the side of the road faster than you can say “Angelo Esposito.”
The cool thing is that the next chapter is up to them. We’ll hear that being drafted was always one of their dreams growing up. We’ll hear it so many times that we’ll become immune to it before the first round is over on Friday night. But that soon-to-be tired cliché is only partially true. In reality, this draft weekend only opens the door to 210 dreams. Every player drafted will have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and become an NHL player.
Now, it’s up to them to make the most of their opportunity. You know, like prom night.