|"This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life," said Gardiner of being drafted by the Ducks. "I'm so excited right now. It's a great organization I'm going to." |
Oh, how things can change in just a year.
A year ago Jake Gardiner was a self-proclaimed “average skater” as a forward at Minnetonka High School with flickering hopes of a long-term future in the game. Now the 17-year-old is the property of the Anaheim Ducks, who selected Gardiner 17th overall in the NHL Entry Draft and provided him with “the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
The sudden transformation came in great part from a position change Gardiner underwent a year ago at the suggestion of Minnesota State University, Mankato coach Troy Jutting, who evaluated Gardiner during a visit to the school. Jutting urged Gardiner to move back to the blueline and focus on becoming an offensive defenseman.
“He just thought, there are 1,000 kids who play forward and can handle the puck,” Gardiner said, minutes after he took the stage with Ducks personnel at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. “But there are only a few who can do it playing defense. “
Gardiner said he laughed at the suggestion at first, since he had spent his entire playing life on the front line. “But then I was like, ‘Yeah, this might work.' And sure enough it did.
"When I was a forward, I was an average skater, and for some reason when I went to defense, it opened people’s eyes. Now I’m here today getting drafted in the NHL.”
The 6-0, 180-pounder paved the way for that selection by scoring 16 goals and adding 27 assists in just 25 high school games. His 43 points ranked third among Minnesota high school defensemen, as he helped Minnetonka to a 24-4-0 record. He was a finalist for the 2008 Mr. Hockey Award given to the top Minnesota high school hockey player, standing out among a glut of talented players from the hockey-rich state.
“Jake is one of the best skaters in the draft, if not the best,” said Ducks Director of Amateur Scouting Alain Chainey. “He is good on the power play and brings an offensive dynamic that you don’t often find in a defenseman.”
The Ducks had been looking at taking Gardiner with the 12th pick in the Draft, but midway through the round Anaheim traded down to 17th with the hopes that Gardiner would still be around. When it came time for the Ducks to pick, they wasted little time in snatching him.
“If you asked all 30 teams all the floor to describe Jake Gardiner in one word, they would say – speed,” said Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Burke. “He can fly. He’s a great skater. We think he’s going to develop and fill out and learn the game. We think his upside is terrific.”
|“If you asked all 30 teams all the floor to describe Jake Gardiner in one word, they would say – speed,” said Burke. “He can fly. He’s a great skater. We think he’s going to develop and fill out and learn the game. We think his upside is terrific.” |
Gardiner will undergo that development with the help of a renowned coaching staff at the University of Wisconsin, where he hopes to continue to learn the position he took on just a short time ago.
“I need to work on my defensive awareness and learn the position more,” he said. “I was a forward only a year ago. I just need time. But I think I’ll be ready to play in the NHL.”
Gardiner would love to get there quickly enough to play alongside one of his idols, Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer. “It would be sweet to play with Scott Niedermayer,” Gardiner said. “He’s an amazing player, a great skater and probably one of the best defenseman in the NHL. That would be unreal.”
Ducks execs indicated to Gardiner that he would be the type of player they are looking to step into Niedermayer’s shoes, since even if the veteran comes back this season, his possible retirement is on the horizon.
“It’s some pressure,” he said with a laugh. “But I think I can handle it.”
In the meantime, he’s just happy to be part of the future of the Ducks. “I’m so excited right now,” Gardiner said. “It’s a great organization I’m going to. They just won the Cup last year, so I’m very happy with it.”
Just before leaving to celebrate in a suite with his family and Ducks execs and scouts, Gardiner was asked by a reporter what fans can expect of him. He didn’t hesitate to answer.
“I hate to lose,” he said. “And I love winning. I’m the most competitive guy on the ice. I’ll help the Anaheim Ducks win.”Jake Gardiner Video