|Colin Long, who is eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, is in his third year with the WHL's Kelowna Rockets.|
Thirty teams picked a total of 211 players last June in Columbus, but Long wasn’t one of them. Two of his teammates on the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets were selected -- Cody Almond went in the fifth round to Minnesota, and Torrie Jung went in the seventh round to Tampa Bay -- but Long was left behind.
When the 2008 Draft is held June 20-21 in Ottawa, though, there’s little chance Long will get passed over. Not after finishing second in the WHL with 69 assists and 100 points.
A year ago, though, was a different story. Scouts weren’t overly impressed with the 11 goals, 28 points and minus-29 rating he totaled in 69 games, and he was left off Central Scouting’s final draft rankings.
"Last year he wasn’t on our list, so we were telling teams he’s an also-ran and the teams believed us," said Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire.
Long took the embarrassment to heart and spent this season sending a message to scouts. He led the WHL in scoring until the last day of the season, when he was passed by one point, and he turned his ugly minus into a plus-22 rating.
Well, that’s certainly gotten the attention of Central Scouting, as well as 30 NHL scouting staffs.
"This year, we’re saying maybe not that we made a mistake, but he has developed faster than this guy or this guy who wasn’t ranked," said McGuire. "We’re ringing the bell again as an early warning system, Year 2. We’re saying take another look at him."
So how does a player go from unwanted to a potential third-round pick in the course of a year?
"Not every player matures at the same rate," said Peter Sullivan, who scouts Western Canada for Central Scouting. "Two years ago, more second-year (draft-eligible) players were drafted than in their first year, which had not happened in the draft in previous years, which is an indication that these players, some of them take more time to mature. It depends on the team you play with, you don’t get enough ice time in your draft year. This year he was a go-to guy, and he probably saw more power play (time) this year, and he was put out in critical situations and he matured as a hockey player."
"I didn’t have that great of a year," Long admits of last season. "It would have been pretty easy for teams to not (draft) me. It is embarrassing; there’s a little bit of embarrassment, especially if you know you have the skill, you just didn’t put it all together. It was disappointing, but it makes you work that much harder to get ready for next season."
Long spent the summer working out every day, determined to show all those wizened hockey experts just what they missed.
"The year before, for a 17-year-old, I was getting good ice time," he said. "I was getting some power play time and it wasn’t happening. It’s not like I was a fourth-line guy or anything like that. It just took me a while to figure it out. I started to figure it out at the end of the year, but this summer I figured it out. This year I figured out how hard I need to work to be productive.
"From what I’ve seen, you notice him on the ice all the time," Sullivan said, "whereas in his (first) draft year, you noticed him on the third or fourth line. I think he’s the go-to guy this year."
B.J. MacDonald, another Western Canada-based scout for Central Scouting, said of Long, "The one thing that he improved on this year is he saw the ice a lot better this year, he can really dish the puck a lot better than he did last year, so he got a lot of assists. He just seemed to have better awareness on the ice this year."
And now teams are aware of Long.
"We’ve made a statement by putting him where he is that he deserves to be there," Sullivan said.
And if he gets passed over again, Long says it won’t deter him from his goal of playing in the NHL.
"It’s out of my hands," he said. "If a team likes me, I hope I made a good case for myself. Hopefully someone will like me."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.