The 2020 NHL Draft was not an easy process to follow.
It took place in October, mid-week and after the first 31 selections the previous evening, the next six rounds seemed to last long enough for some draftees to run out of junior/college eligibility before it was over.
Hockey fans had to refresh their web browsers so many times, bandwidth from Newark to Nizhny Novgorod was worn thin. The wait was worth it. Like all NHL Drafts, there was no shortage of intriguing later-round selections.
Like Ethan Edwards.
The 18-year-old defenseman was taken by the Devils in the fourth round, 120th overall. A smallish (5'11", 183 pounds) but feisty rearguard, he's raw but has good speed, footwork, and puck skills.
"Yes, I would say that's (accurate)," Edwards agreed after a back-of-the-napkin scouting report was read back to him.
He made an interesting add to those comments:
"I don't back down from anyone (or) shy away from any situation," the lone occasion during an informal phone chat when he displayed even a hint of swagger.
Edwards is currently playing for the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL. Devils pick Akira Schmid (2018, 136th overall) is the Musketeers No. 1 goalie and recently backstopped the team to a pair of important 3-2 wins over Fargo that kept them in the playoff hunt. The Musketeers are hovering around .500 and will need a strong final month and a bit of luck to make the playoffs. Through 40 games, Edwards has 20 points (6G, 14A) to lead the club's defensemen. Maple Leafs pick John Fusco also mans the Musketeer blueline, as does 2021 Draft prospect Shai Bulum. Jackson Nieuwendyk, son of retired Devil, Joe, is a forward on the Musketeers, as is Nikita Krivokrasov, whose father, Sergei, had a decade-long NHL career.
"It's great to be here with Akira and to have that (Devils) bond in common," said Edwards, "he's been huge for us."
Edwards is heading to the University of Michigan in the fall, where he will join Luke Hughes, Jack's younger brother, who is also a defenseman and expected to be among the first handful of picks in the 2021 NHL Draft.
"We've been on Zoom calls together," says Edwards, "I don't know (Luke) yet but It's cool to know that he's going to be a future teammate."
Michigan's hockey program speaks for itself, especially in a year where three Wolverines are expected to be taken in the upper reaches of the first round, plus Luke Hughes. But Edwards' path is not typical for a Canadian kid. Most play major junior in one of the three Canadian Hockey League loops, where 60 teams stretch from Atlantic Canada to the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
Edwards older brother, Brett, took the college route and is a forward at the University of Denver.
Edwards had an opportunity to join the Portland Winterhawks, a stellar program that has produced a plethora of high NHL draft picks, including Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones. Instead, Edwards will be joining a lineup that includes Luke Hughes and Owen Power on the blueline and forwards Mathew Beniers and Kent Johnson. Power could go No. 1 overall in July , while Beniers and Johnson will be selected not long after.
Just as important for Edwards is that the college route offers more time to develop. To wit, one scout consulted before the Draft, cited Edwards as a potential mid/late-round gem but one that required "patience…three or four years."
Edwards agrees with that sentiment.
"Portland is a great program and it wasn't an easy decision (but) I don't want to rush my path of development. (Going to Michigan) was the best decision for me and my family."
Edwards plans to take business.
"I've always been entrepreneurial if that's the right word," he said.
Edwards may have come by that business sense honestly. His parents, Tara and Lee, operate a pet food store in St. Albert, an Edmonton suburb, their new home base after moving the family south from Grand Prairie about five years ago. "Bone and Biscuit" supplies the needs of pet owners around town and the family store also provides a never-ending supply of treats for Manny, the family dog, and Lenny, a cat who was just added to the fold.
The ultimate treat: the World Junior takes place (again) in Edmonton next season. A lot must fall into place for Edwards to get a chance but given the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, and assuming he takes his place on the Wolverines roster and flourishes, stranger things have happened.
"That's the dream," said Edwards, of getting a chance to try-out for Team Canada.