Think about your family and people around you for a minute. Think about your nieces and nephews. Think about your cousins. Think about your kids if you have them. Do you know anyone who just celebrated their high school graduation? Do you have any of those awkward, zit-faced teenagers in your life? You know, the kid that you can’t believe is allowed to drive an automobile?
Get a good picture of that kid in your mind. Those were the kinds of kids selected in the NHL Draft who are now attending prospect camps all over the NHL.
I always knew that they were young. I can do the math when I hear that some of my childhood favorites are in retirement. When I see their birth dates were in 1992, I’m reminded that they were born when I was experimenting with flannel and… well, let’s just leave it at flannel.
But upon attending the draft and meeting so many of the draft picks this year, I didn’t really understand just how young they are.
They’re dressed up in suits looking like I did when I was going to my high school’s Winter Formal. Their girlfriends are all dressed up like they’re going out for an anniversary or something. Their parents are with them, wearing the proudest smiles you can imagine.
Easily my favorite part of the entire draft experience was watching the human element of it all. Walking into the arena, watching an entire family dressed up, excited, knowing that this weekend could/would change their lives forever. And after seeing these teenagers file into Staples Center, it’s not too much to say that.
Hearing their name called at the NHL Draft will change their lives forever. Which organization would believe in them? Who will give them an opportunity? Where may they potentially break into the best league in the world? Where might they live, have children, and raise their families? It all starts with draft weekend. In a very fundamental way, it’s the weekend when these kids transform from kids to adults.
But my God, they’re so young! They’re still kids.
This is the weekend that people are just happy for them because they got drafted. Draft weekend is all about joy—the big boy stress of professional hockey can wait for another day. Teams are excited that they were able to select someone they’ll hopefully be able to add to their organization. Families are excited that all of the hard work and sacrifice has paid off. The players are happy that people are buying drinks for them. Everyone wins.
But from this point on, there are expectations. The organization is no longer pleased with a high level of fitness, they expect it. They no longer are happy with maturity, they expect it. And you know how a prospect’s game improves from their 1st year of junior to their 2nd? Yeah—now they’re expected to continue that kind of improvement every year. Potential is a forgone conclusion—now it’s all about fulfilling it. For a lot of us, it compares to when we go to college. (Check that, it compares to when we graduate from college).
But like I said, those are problems for the future. Walking around on the suite level at Staples Center after the 1st round was an absolutely great experience. Most of the teams had a suite where the draft picks, their families, and the team’s front office personnel could all get together and celebrate. Some of the GMs were obviously still working on moving around in the draft the next day and scouts knew they had 6 more rounds to fill out their team—but the overwhelming mood was of celebration for everyone involved.
There was a group of us who were taking our time, strolling around the arena before we landed in our bar of choice for the evening. I may or may not have seen an unnamed 1st rounder rolling about 20 deep—and just about every one of those 20 family members was bombed. We’re talking, sobriety test failure type of hammered. There were smiles and laughter and yelling and cocktails. It was a party—and it was better than anything you could have seen on Versus or TSN.
Jarrod Tinordi, Jack Campbell, Charlie Coyle, and Mark Pysyk were all around after the draft and each all of them are extremely pleasant human beings. Notice, I didn’t say “hockey players.” They were all good kids. You know the polite, respectful kid you hope your daughter brings home as her first boyfriend? That kind of kid. (Although, one draftee called me sir and I almost shanked him. What the hell, I’m not old enough to be a “sir.”)
The best part of coming into contact with the draft picks up there on the private suite level was that there were no cameras around. There were no scripted questions from tired reporters and no scripted answers from nervous 17-year-olds. It was just a bunch of hockey people hanging out. Just good kids. Excited kids. But kids, nonetheless.
Each and every one of the players that I spoke with was more than willing to take a minute and talk. They weren’t jaded superstars who didn’t have time for people; they were more than willing to talk to anyone who walked up to them. At one point, Jack Campbell was surprised so many people wanted to take a picture with him. Our editor simply smiled and said, “Get used to it.”
I’m sure one day he WILL get used to it. All of those prospects were graduating from youthful innocents to professional adulthood. Signing autographs, doing interviews, and taking pictures will all become a part of life for the guys that make it. And I’m sure some of those nice kids that I had the pleasure of meeting will change in the coming years and some will remember who they are.
But for one night, I got to see the future of the NHL in all its simplicity.