MONTREAL - It's hard to believe 10 years have passed since Max Pacioretty's NHL journey began.
Back on June 22, 2007, the Canadiens selected the incoming freshman at the University of Michigan 22nd overall at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
Five hundred and sixty-two career regular season games and four playoff runs later, the now 28-year-old captain still vividly recalls heading up on stage moments after then Director of Player Recruitment and Development and current Vice President of Player Personnel Trevor Timmins announced his selection to the hockey world.
"Even though it was exactly the number I was projected to go, I still couldn't believe it. I kept glancing to see my family's reaction and I didn't even put it together that my dad [Ray] was extra emotional since his mother [Therese] was born and raised in Montreal," shared Pacioretty, on the life-changing experience a decade ago. "He sacrificed everything for me to play hockey. Seeing how proud he was in that moment is something I'll never forget."
Despite being a first-round selection, though, Pacioretty didn't earn a full-time roster spot in Montreal right away. After departing the Wolverines following a standout campaign to turn pro, the New Canaan, CT native spent three straight seasons logging time between the Canadiens and the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs before finally seeing 79 games of action with the big club in 2011-12 - compiling the first of his five 30-goal and 60-point seasons to date.
In retrospect, being shuttled between the NHL and AHL ranks early on in his career proved to be a recipe for future success.
"Fortunately, I had the right people in my ear reminding me that now the hard part was going to come [after being drafted]. I didn't expect anything to be handed to me. I knew I was going to have to work to get where I wanted to be. They were right, because it took me four years of hard work to get there," said Pacioretty, on his road to full-time status with the Canadiens. "I definitely didn't have an easy path to the NHL, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I had three different AHL coaches, three NHL coaches and two GMs before I became established. I wouldn't be where I am right now if it wasn't for those up and down experiences."
Where he is right now is among the most productive players in his draft class offensively. The Masterton Trophy winner ranks third with 209 goals, eighth with 202 assists and fourth with 411 points. Only fellow wingers Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn and Jakub Voracek have more points on their resume than he does since joining the NHL fraternity in Ohio. That certainly isn't lost on Pacioretty himself.
"It's been amazing. There were times when I doubted if this would ever happen and I never saw myself getting to this level," admitted Pacioretty, the Canadiens' leading point-getter the last six years running. "But, the people I was surrounded by did, and they made sure I never lost sight of that."
Patience also played an important part in his success, too. It's something he came to understand as time marched on.
"[I learned] to just worry about one day at a time and what I can control. This is something all hockey players struggle with because we want results and want them right away," confided Pacioretty. "But, that's not always going to happen."
That's just one of many key lessons he'd pass along to the next crop of young guns entering the Canadiens' fold later on this week in Chicago. His overall message, however, would be short and sweet.
"[It would be] the same advice I got," concluded Pacioretty. "Now, the hard work begins."