Voorhees, NJ – Ask any NHL player about the day he was drafted, and more than likely you will bring a smile to his face as he clearly remembers the events like they were yesterday.
After all, the common notion that it is one of the biggest, most important and memorable days of a hockey player's life is certainly an accurate one.
"I clearly remember sitting in the stadium in Montreal with my folks and going up to the podium and putting the jersey on," said Mike Rathje, who was taken third overall by San Jose in 1992. "It was exciting."
"I think the whole weekend was exciting leading up to it," added Derian Hatcher. "You basically go around and talk to teams and have meetings with them. I still remember walking in the arena in the morning and I think one of the people from the Minnesota North Stars said that if I was there they were going to take me."
Hatcher ended up getting chosen by the North Stars as the eighth overall pick in 1991. In fact, current Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke was the one who chose him, as he was serving in the same role for Minnesota at the time.
While there is excitement in the air for the players, there is also the uncertainty of where they are going to be chosen. That leads to some butterflies in the stomach.
"I really felt, with the discussions I had with Vancouver and the articles that were being written in the print media, that I was going to Vancouver with the second pick," said Keith Primeau. "I got to prepare myself for that, and being a young person I didn't know any better, so it was a little deflating. I'm glad that with the third pick I went to Detroit, because if I had started to sit around a little bit it would have been a little nerve-wracking."
"I think there was some nervousness about not knowing what to expect and everything that goes with that," said Hatcher. "You just go from playing all your life hoping one day to being in the NHL, and then all of a sudden you're drafted and there's a lot of things going through your mind."
Hatcher had the benefit of having his older brother, Kevin, around. Kevin Hatcher was drafted six years earlier than his younger brother.
"Before I went I talked to him," said Derian. "I think I was probably wearing one of his suits, too. He had already been playing in the league for four or five years, so he gave me a little advice and just wished me luck."
The draft, however, is just the first step in making it to the NHL, and there is still much work to be done in order to have a successful professional career.
"They always say that the draft gets you into the league, but it doesn't keep you in the league," said Rathje.* * *
Needless to say, the NHL Entry Draft and what goes along with it has changed dramatically from its first version in 1969 to the draft of today. Just ask Clarke, who was chosen in the second round by Philadelphia that year.
"I don't even think I knew I was drafted until two or three days later," said Clarke. "I was actually at a friend's farm down in Southern Manitoba. [A Flyers] scout must have gotten his number from my parents and he called me and told me. You're still very excited, because you're wondering if you're going to get drafted and where you're going to go.
"There was no real excitement or urgency. Wondering where you were going to be drafted was important, but there's no real buildup or anything to it."
Clarke is still passionate about the draft, only now it is from a different perspective. After all, he is the man in charge and has the final say as to whom the Flyers will choose in the seven rounds of this year's draft in Vancouver.
He admits, however, that many of the choices he leaves up to the Flyers' scouts.
"The scouting staff that you have put together works all year for this one particular day. When you're the general manager, you are deeply involved in not necessarily the selection as much as trading players for draft picks or draft picks for players, so there's about a three or four day period where there's a lot of communication between teams and a lot of manipulating and conning and stuff going on. It's an exciting time for us all."
The Flyers have a total of nine picks, including three second round choices, which may lead to increased activity for Clarke as the day nears.
"We have a couple of extra picks in the second round. Whether we can turn them into what we think is more or not, we'll see, but there's always teams going into the draft that want to make trades and are trying to make trades," he said. "You try and dance with them if you can if you think you can do something to help your club."