Randy Velischek feels that while technological advances have all but wiped out the element of surprise when it comes to the NHL draft, there's still one area too unpredictable to forecast.Former NHL defenseman
In fact, ultimately it will determine the future of every young skater with dreams of playing in the big leagues.
"Development," Velischek told NHL.com. "I recently spoke to a friend of mine (former NHL forward Ed Ward) who's an agent right now, and even he told me that the key for these young kids who get drafted is to keep developing. Sure, it's great to be drafted, but they have to get better day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month."
It's what Velischek constantly reminds his 18-year-old son, Alex, a defenseman who helped lead the Delbarton School of Morristown, N.J., to its second straight New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Non-Public school championship this season. Velischek was No. 63 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, a tremendous jump from No. 112 in the midterm rankings, which were released in January.
The 6-foot, 205-pounder had 16 goals, 51 points, 85 hits and a plus-61 rating while serving as team captain and leading the team to a state-record 27 victories.
"Back in my era we didn't know we were being drafted," Randy Velischek said. "I had no idea I was part of the draft, and for Alex and all the kids on the radar screen, they know and that adds pressure. Alex just needs to keep it in perspective. If you're drafted it probably means absolutely nothing because if you're not among the top 20 picks, you're still a blip anyway. All it means is that you have potential and need to keep developing."
Delbarton is no stranger to producing professional hockey players. Current Anaheim Ducks forward George Parros and Derek Maguire, a 1990 ninth-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens, both were standouts for the Green Wave.
"Having a dad that's been there before definitely helps because it gives you a baseline and he's allowed me to relax and prepare the right way for games," Alex Velischek said. "He's coached me a lot over the last 2-3 years on some travel teams and he's certainly been a big part of my getting to this point."
The similarity between father and son is uncanny.
Randy, born in Montreal, was drafted in the third round (No. 53) by the Minnesota North Stars in 1980. Instead of taking the normal progression of Canadian-born players, Velischek spent four years at Providence (1979-83). That allows him now to stress the importance of education to his son over the junior-hockey life.
"Alex got a little taste of the locker room when I played and when I went into broadcasting," said Randy Velischek. "He got access to a lot of the games and traveled with me on the road and got a feel for the professionalism and how you're treated as an athlete. Not every kid gets to see that. If you see the inside workings of being a pro athlete, it's an incredible experience, and hockey players, especially Canadians, are put on a pedestal even more."
Alex will follow in his father's footsteps by playing at Providence in the fall.
"When Alex came in as a freshman, he was always very polite and honest," Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel told NHL.com. "As the years progressed he kept getting better and stronger. I'm confident he can play with anybody in our country at his age, without question. Alex has kept a level head, something really nice to see with all the attention he's been getting."
"It's been my dream since I was a little kid to play in the NHL, and if I get drafted it's only one step closer, so it's obviously something I'm going to be working toward over the next few months," Velischek said.
One of the strong points to Velischek's game is his versatility. He started playing as a defenseman, but a growth spurt at age 7 caused a coach to move him to forward. That experiment ended when he entered Delbarton, as Shatel moved him back to defense. He sometimes plays forward -- he won 76 faceoffs last season -- but it seems like his future lies on the blue line.
Shatel is grateful Velischek, who had six power-play goals while quarterbacking the team's power-play this season, has become such a dual threat for his team.
"His skating is superb and the strength in the lower half of his body is just something you don't see in kids his age," Shatel said. "He can really shoot the puck and has a good feel as to how to play defense and join the rush."
His lower-body strength was on display at the 2009 Scouting Combine, where he tied for the fourth-highest average jump height, at 25 inches, and the ninth-longest standing long jump, at 111 inches.
Two-time NHL All-Star Keith Primeau, now an assistant coach at Bishop Eustace Prep of Pennsauken, N.J., faced Velischek twice during the regular season. He knows the difficulty in game-planning against the rugged blueliner.
"He's a strong player with great vision and a great shot," Primeau told NHL.com. "He competes hard and that's what you're looking for in a potential draft pick. On top of that, he has the genetics."
Randy Velischek knows the draft only is the beginning to an arduous professional career. He's confident his son will make the right decisions.
"Alex is going to be watched by scouts, but he has to play like he's being watched every night, no matter the competition," he said. "You have to consistently be good, so I've talked to him a lot about being good away from the rink. If you want to move on in this profession, you have to make sacrifices. The kids who actually move on are the ones who understand there's a balance between social life and what you give to the game."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com