As 2024 NHL Draft Days 1 and 2 are about to unfold late this month for a new class of selections, our “My Draft Days” series will look back at the never-forget-it day for members of the 2021, 2022 and 2023 Seattle draft classes. In his own words, 2021 fifth-rounder Jacob Melanson, now an American Hockey League rookie excelling in his role as a physical forward with a scoring touch for the Coachella Valley Firebirds, recalls his draft day at home in Amherst, Nova Scotia.

I slept well the night before the second day of the 2021 NHL Draft, which was in July that summer, delayed due to the pandemic. I went to bed knowing if I kept working, getting a chance with an NHL organization was going to happen.

Not that I wasn’t a bit nervous and excited once I woke up that day (July 24). By 8 a.m., I was on the golf course with my stepdad and a couple of my friends just to kind of keep the mood light. There was a lot of pressure and a lot of emotions from the previous two months, just the unknown of where I'm going and if I'm going.

I had a lot of thoughts and scenarios running through my mind. I can’t say much about my actual score or how I played, but it felt good to get outside and maybe get out of my own head for a bit.

Keeping it Real and Smaller, At Least to Start

The telecast started about 11 a.m. [local time]. We were just hanging out at our house in Amherst [a town of 9,000 in northwestern Nova Scotia, much closer to New Brunswick than his province’s city of Halifax], my mom, Jennifer Hayden, and stepdad, Gary Estabrooks, a few cousins, some friends and their families. Also, my bantam coach, Ali MacEachern and his wife, Peggy. Ali played in the “Q” [Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League]. He was at the house for my “Q” draft and I wanted him there for the next step, kind of full circle. We really bonded when I was younger and our families grew tight.

My mom and I decided not to have a big party. We just didn’t know if I would get picked. You’re waiting for that day to happen and hoping your name is called. I didn't want a huge party, feeling the pressure of everyone there and me not getting drafted.

Scoping (and Hoping) What Round

I didn’t figure I would go in the second or third rounds [Firebirds teammates Ryker Evans and Ryan Winterton were the Kraken selections]. But I knew the fourth round was definitely a possibility. I actually walked outside for a little bit and took a breather outside. I went back in the house. About 10 minutes later, Seattle made the fifth-round pick. It was a weird way for me to find out because the telecast went to a commercial break just before Seattle drafted. We're all sitting there, the commercial is playing and as the commercial flipped back to the draft, my name was up on the board. It was a pretty cool moment ... We didn't hear anything, just saw it on the board.

My first reaction was my family and friends were all cheering. The first person I turned to was my mom, had to be my mom. We gave each other a hug and were both crying, sobbing. It was a moment of, well, relief and tears of joy... It was one of the best moments of my life, if not the best. Being able to share it with my mother, who has sacrificed so much for me, taking me to practices an hour away starting in my peewee days, not having any time for herself every Tuesday and Thursday night, not having any free weekends. She was making it possible for me to play at the highest levels. I couldn’t thank her or hug her enough.

Call from a Hall of Famer

After my name was on the TV screen and we had all settled down just a bit, Ron Francis called me. He welcomed me to the Kraken, said he was excited to have me and talked me through a few things. It was a special phone call to get. He’s such a big name in hockey.

I had conversations with a few teams that week [and 18 clubs during the two-month run-up to draft week]. No other teams really stuck out like Seattle. I had a good idea and hoped I might be going there. I was honored to be drafted and honored to be playing in the AHL this season. I am going to remember it for the rest of my life, just being with family and friends and being able to see my name on the screen, all pretty crazy and surreal.

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Emotions and Memories on the Patio

As it turned out, my mom surprised me. She had planned a party in the event I did get drafted. So lots of friends and neighbors stopped by later afternoon into the evening with lots of talks and memories out on our patio—so many emotions. I come from a small town. Not a lot of others who were drafted [there was one, Jamie Matthews, picked by Chicago in 1991 and then San Jose in 1993]. It was a pretty big deal for me and my family for that dream to come true.

There were lots of tears after me overcoming a lot of adversity and a lot of people not thinking I could do it [twice breaking his collarbone after being picked by Quebec City in the QMJHL draft, then not getting much of chance to play, requesting to be a traded to much-closer-to-home Acadie-Bathurst Titan in New Brunswick, where he starred]. It was such a great feeling getting drafted and especially to Seattle being a new team.

‘I Probably Didn’t Even Know It Was My Draft Year’

Once I was traded to Bathhurst, there weren’t really a lot of expectations for me going into my draft year. Honestly, I probably didn’t even know it was my draft year. But I got the opportunity from the coach, Mario Duroucher, and GM, Sylvain Couturier, who both gave me a chance, gave me the ice. I really showed myself and had a great second half of the season [in his final QMJHL season, split between Acadie-Bathurst and Sherbrooke, he scored 50 goals, exactly 25 for each team and another eight in the playoffs for Sherbrooke, which went deep in the QMJHL postseason while Melanson’s squad back in Bathurst loaded up on future assets in the midseason trade].

I would say about month into playing that season I got a hint that I possibly might be drafted. Seattle became one of my top teams after talking to them. Trevor Steinberg was the Maritimes rep and amateur scout for Seattle. He was really high on me. We had a really good relationship even before the draft. I appreciate all of his support and from everyone in the Kraken and Firebirds organizations.

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