One of John Moore's most prized possessions is a stick he was given by former Chicago Blackhawks sniper Eric Daze. Moore, selected 21st overall by Columbus in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft last week, grew up about 20 miles away from Chicago in Winnetka, Illinois. He's spent his whole life supporting the Original 6 team from the Windy City.
But things have changed.
"I was a Blackhawks fan until (last) Friday," Moore says with a big smile after day two the Columbus development camp.
Moore heads the Jackets' 2009 draft class, one that had a different feel from recent editions. The success Columbus experienced in the 2008-09 season literally pushed them further away from the draft stage, where they have traditionally had the opportunity to select blue chip, top 10 talent.
The slick skating, puck-moving D-man from the USHL’s Chicago Steel (14 goals and 25 assists in 57 games last season) was on Scott Howson's radar but believing that the highly rated Moore wouldn't be around when the Jackets drafted in the 16th slot, the GM traded down. When Moore was still available after 20 picks, Howson made another trade to get that spot and didn't hesitate in calling the kid's name out in Montreal's Bell Centre.
"There was a lot of hard work that went into reaching that day but there's also a lot of hard work that needs to be done," says Moore.
That work started on Monday when Moore and a long list of young players in the system – as well as some with a special invite – attended the development camp. The talented defenseman has already been one of the standouts.
"We all love his attitude and disposition," says head coach Ken Hitchcock. "His foot speed gets him out of so much trouble all the time. He's able to get up the ice, he can maneuver away from people.
"It's going to be his calling card." “He can skate at the NHL level right now," adds Jackets' development coach Tyler Wright. "He brings an element that I think we miss dearly as far as a puck-moving defenceman that can jump into the rush.
"He's a kid that's eager to learn."
But Moore isn't the only player in the 2009 draft class that might someday look good in Columbus colors. The Jackets were able to get a good prospect with the 56th overall pick in forward Kevin Lynch (right), an 18-year-old from Grosse Point, Michigan, who spent the past two years with the US Development Program.
"It's what you dream of as a kid, is getting drafted," says Lynch, who admits he cried when his mother first put him on the ice at the age of two, in figure skates, no less. "You put so much hard work into it over the years and it's just unbelievable when the day comes."
While local Buckeye fans might begrudge him for committing to the University of Michigan this fall, Lynch jokes that he'll change their minds with his hard work. He says the US Development Program has been instrumental in shaping him that ethic.
"It made me a more mature, well-rounded player," says Lynch, who scored 24 goals and added 24 assists in 63 games last season, while also helping the US win gold at the World Under-18 Championships. "Moving away from home was a huge thing for me, too."
The selection of both Moore and Lynch was no accident.
"At the end of the day, we really had targeted a couple of guys," says Wright, referring to the young pair. "Scott did a magnificent job getting the guys we wanted to."
With Columbus going 2-for-2 in terms of early targets, Howson and his staff then focused on filling the cupboards with more defensive prospects. In the fourth round (94th overall), Columbus took defenseman David Savard from the QMJHL's Moncton Wildcats. They chose another big D-prospect, Thomas Larkin, in the fifth round. The London, England native, a towering 6-5 and 206 pounds, was captain and MVP of his Phillips Exeter Academy (New Hampshire) high school team last season. And Columbus added some serious grit in the seventh round when they chose 6-5 bruiser (and You Tube fighting legend) Kyle Neuber from the Mississauga St. Michaels Majors of the OHL.
In the aftermath of the Entry Draft, the organization now has a nice blend of young forwards and defenseman in the system, the hope being that they will eventually contribute to the strong nucleus the club has, anchored by stars like Rick Nash and Steve Mason.
But like all of the other players at the Jackets development camp, the 2009 draftees will have to learn that being an NHLer requires sacrifice and work.
"These kids are all young, they're all naive," says Wright. "They have an understanding that they think they’re ready for the NHL and what it takes.
"When you get it in their mind that you have to multiply that by about 100, then they’ll figure it out."