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Draft Flashback: Duncan Keith

by Adam Kempenaar / Chicago Blackhawks

Five years ago this month the Blackhawks selected Duncan Keith out of Michigan State with the 54th overall pick (2nd round) of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. caught up with the speedy defenseman to reflect on his draft day in Toronto.

What's the first thing that flashes into your mind when you think about your draft day?

Well, I think the best part of draft day was being in the space you see on TV your whole life, growing up as a kid watching hockey and seeing guys like Wayne Gretzky down on the floor. When you're sitting up in the stands there waiting to be picked, you're just in amazement actually being a part of it for the first time -- seeing all these people you've grown up idolizing and watching and now you're seeing them in person.

What kind of season did you have going into your draft year?

I wanted to have a good year and I may have put too much pressure on myself. But I wanted to be picked high. I don't think my draft year was one of my best years. It was my first year at Michigan State and there was a lot of learning. And it was a new place, a new school, and it was a big adjustment for me. I think off the ice it affected my play. Overall, I think I showed all my attributes and I was just hoping that some team would see through those adjustments. Luckily for me, Chicago did see through that and that I had some skill and maybe what it took to be picked high.

Where did you expect to be selected?

I guess I was rated anywhere from the 2nd to 4th round. I kind of believed in myself that I would be taken no later than the 2nd round and that's what happened. I was open to the fact that I would maybe go down into a later round, but I was always hoping to be picked higher. I was happy where I was picked. I always knew that I wanted to prove to people that I deserved to be picked higher. And I still try to prove that now.

What about expectations as far as which team would select you?

I talked to quite a few teams so I didn't really have anybody in particular in mind. But Vancouver, I talked to them a couple of times and they were close to my hometown so I was kind of thinking them. And I knew my agent had said they really liked me. When I was actually picked by Chicago I wasn't too surprised that it was them because they had expressed some interest in me more so than a few other teams.

Does anything stick out in your mind about the interview process prior to the draft?

Being drafted by Chicago, one thing that actually does stick out in my head is talking to Jim Gary. I'd never really encountered too many team psychologists. So it was kind of neat because, like him with me, I learned some things from the meeting. Dallas also had a team psychologist, who was there if players wanted to use him. I just felt that was kind of interesting to start with those guys, the mental side of the game. Because you always know they're trying to pick your brain a little bit, so it's kind of funny at the same time.

Did you have family with you?

Just my mom and dad. The draft was in Toronto so it was kind of expensive to fly out there and we didn't want to make too big of a deal out of it. You do hear some horror stories of how some people can go out there for the whole draft and they never get drafted for two days. But we kept it quiet, just me, my mom and dad and it was fun down there. I'm sure they enjoyed it as well, seeing me getting drafted. Their hard work and the money they put into me paid off.

Did you pay much attention to the pre-draft rankings and scouting reports? Was it hard reading negative things about you?

You always hear the reports and check them out because it's fun to see where you're ranked. But I really didn't really care in the end where I was drafted and what other people said about me. I always believed in myself and my abilities to make the NHL and I think that's what any player should do. There are a lot of things that are going to be said about you, but you can't worry too much about that.

Hawks scout Ron Anderson compared you to one-time Hawk Phil Housley. Was that a comparison you heard a lot at the time?

Yeah, I heard that comparison. I think that probably comes from my size. Like I said, I try not to read too much into that sort of stuff. I always tried to believe in myself and I didn't really care what other people were going to say about me, like I wasn't going to be big enough to make it. I always wanted to do it for myself because I love hockey and this is the best league so...

Did you ever dream about the draft growing up?

You know what, I never really did dream about the draft. It was always something you thought about once and a while as a kid. I think for me it was always dreaming that I was in the NHL and winning the Stanley Cup.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your 18 year-old self leading up to the draft?

My advice would be not to worry about where you're drafted and how you think you've done the past year. It's nice to get drafted high and what not, but I think players should put the pressure on themselves after the draft to work as hard as they can and give it everything they can to succeed. Once you're in a contract and have a spot in the NHL, there's not much emphasis put on what happened at the draft.

Thanks to Meghan Bieda for contributing to this feature.

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