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Short Shifts

NHL stars share stories of draft day jitters, offer advice to prospects

League's top players took different journeys in reaching same goal

by Cristina Ledra @cledra / Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- The lives of more than 200 hockey players are going to change in a big way during the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver, and if anyone knows what they're going through, it's NHL players who were all in their position once. Whether they were drafted No. 1 or didn't get drafted at all, every NHL player was, at one time, a teenage prospect following their dreams into an exciting weekend of uncertainty and, ultimately, relief.

Though each one took a different journey to the NHL, they all reached their goal eventually, and can offer some advice to those who are about to take that huge next step. 

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks (Drafted No. 1 by the Boston Bruins, 1997) 

My experience: "I was 17 and I think just being there with my friends and family, it was just, 'Wow, I'm getting drafted in the NHL.' I was just really, really excited and it was great."

My advice: "Just enjoy it. Have fun and don't stress."

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Drafted No. 1 by the Penguins, 2005)

My experience: "Mine was really unique because it was the lockout year. It was in a hotel board room. It was a very scaled down draft. So I remember seeing the big ones on TV and then I went to mine, and I was like, 'This is not what I anticipated,' but it was unique because that was pretty much the only one that was like that. I just remember being wide-eyed and trying to take everything in, and being nervous, but obviously excited. That's a dream come true to be part of an NHL team."

My advice: "Just have fun with it. I know that all these guys are so focused and this is just a step for them. They're happy to just get drafted. Obviously they want to make their clubs and find out where they're going, but that being said, it's really a great time for a few days to take it all in and enjoy it and spend that time with your family. Everybody worked hard to get to that point, so it's a good thing to be able to spend it with everyone."

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Drafted No. 1 by the Oilers, 2015)

My experience: "Just hearing your name called and everything leading up to it and for me it was something that I always dreamed of, going first overall. There was so much buildup towards it. It's fun to be there on draft day with your family.

"For me, the media guy at the Oilers at the time texted me and I'd known him a little bit beforehand so the day of the draft he text me and asked what size I was for my hat so I had a pretty good idea of where I was going, but it was still special."

My advice: "As much as the draft is important and matters to your life, I find that it doesn't really matter. You look at a guy like (Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita) Kucherov, who's the MVP and went in the second round or (former Red Wings forward) Pavel Datsyuk who was a seventh round pick, this is just the beginning. There's still so much work to be done. Your fate isn't necessarily sealed at the draft."

Video: Oilers draft F Connor McDavid No. 1

Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning (Drafted No. 2 by the Lightning, 2009)

My experience: "Just getting your name called is the best part and the whole thing around it. Being in Montreal as well was pretty cool, being in a hockey city like that. But getting your name called, I still remember it to this day even though it's been a while. I was just super excited and super proud. Putting an NHL Jersey on for the first time, that's a feeling that's never going to go away. I'm obviously very lucky that I still wear the same jersey, so hopefully it stays that way and I finish my career as a Bolt."

My advice: "It goes by fast. It feels like a long time leading up to the draft but once it starts, it's going to be over quickly. Just have fun with it. It's out of your hands now and it's just up to the teams to make sure that they're making the right picks, so just relax and wait for your name to get called."

Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks (Drafted No. 5 by the Canucks, 2017)

My experience: "I was sitting in the seats with my family. I remember feeling that my shirt was choking me. Between every pick I released the top button because I felt like I was going to choke. It was a funny thing, but the best thing was my name being called out. I had a good feeling about who would pick me and I was really excited for them to pick me and they did, and it was just, wow, unbelievable. My friends were up watching and my mom and dad were there. It was a really great moment."

My advice: "Enjoy it. It's a once in a lifetime experience. It'll be that team for the start of your career and just remember what got you there."

Video: Pettersson reacts to being picked 5th overall

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes (Drafted No. 6 by the Coyotes, 2009)

My experience: "It was just cool to have my family and grandparents and everybody there to share that moment with. We went out to a nice dinner the night before. And then you're sitting there sweating, all nervous before your name is called and you don't really know anything about who's going to pick you. I would say that it's kind of hard to take everything in when you're there, but when you get older it's something that you look back to and really wish everybody could be a part of."

My advice: "Just have fun. Don't think too much. And even if you don't get drafted, you have a chance to make it to the NHL. There are a lot of good stories from players who didn't get drafted, so just go there and have fun."

Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames (Drafted No. 6 by the Flames, 2013)

My experience: "I had a really great experience at the draft. It's one of those moments you'll never forget, just having your family there, and they've obviously been in the process of getting you there from when you were a little kid. To have them there was probably my biggest memory."

My advice: "It doesn't matter what pick you are. Obviously you want to be as high as you can, but at the end of the day, you're just trying to play in the NHL. You look around the league and there's a lot of undrafted guys, obviously (Flames defenseman Mark Giordano) was undrafted. It's what you do once you get to camp, so I think it doesn't matter where you start."

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks (Drafted No. 20 by the Minnesota Wild, 2003)

My experience: "Getting drafted is such a huge thing. My draft, I don't really remember much of it. It was just a blur. You're so excited and once your name gets called, it's so crazy for the next hour or two hours. It's crazy looking back at the pictures and you don't remember what's happening."

My advice: "Whether you go high or low, or don't get drafted it doesn't really matter. That's when the work starts. It's hard to make it, it's harder to stay."

Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes (Drafted No. 28 by the Philadelphia Flyers, 2000)

My experience: "I was drafted in Calgary so I was able to have a beer, which is a lot different than a lot of people. So I had that, but I think just the nervousness of it and having the next few years, potentially, decided for you in the next few hours is pretty nerve-wracking, pretty exciting as well. You're so eager to go anywhere."

My advice: "It seems like (prospects are) all very well prepared. They're very well versed and coached in what to say. I think, just enjoy the experience. This thing, it's only going to happen once, so take it all in and enjoy it with fellow prospects and build friendships that way. Just learn as much as you can."

Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets (Drafted No. 28 by the Ottawa Senators, 2006)

My experience: "I think the most memorable part is just hearing your name and walking up on the stage and shaking Gary Bettman's hand and he says, 'Welcome to the NHL.' It's a surreal moment that you dream about and to have it happen, it's a pinch me moment in your life, especially as a kid. It's the next step to becoming an NHL player, so it was an awesome experience for me.

My advice: "I just think it's an opportunity. That's really all it is. You still have to make your way and make your own path. But it's a chance for you to do that. And I think you should embrace that. Whatever round you're drafted, I don't think it matters. 

"As going through it now, obviously it's a great opportunity to the kids who are drafted high and deserve it. But anyone has a chance. When you're looked at by the team, there's so much work, they put so many hours of preparation to pick their players that everyone matters. It's the opportunity that you have in front of you and you should take full advantage of it."

Ryan O'Reilly, St. Louis Blues (Drafted No. 33 by the Colorado Avalanche, 2009)

My experience: "I was disappointed in mine. I was talking to a team that was picking at 14 and it was between me and another guy and if not there, I kind of had the feeling I would go around there and I ended up not going in the first round and it was tough. But finally getting your name called in the second round, you put on the jersey and for me, it was Colorado and I was just extremely excited. It was another step in the journey. I was just excited about the NHL jersey and to be drafted by a team like that was pretty special.

"It's very nerve-wracking. I had a massive headache after (the first day) just because of stress. It's very nerve-wracking just sitting there waiting for your name to be called. You don't know which team wants you as a player. It's very stressful."

My advice: "Just enjoy it and the time with your family. It's just the next step in your career, so enjoy it. There's not a bad place in the League to play. It's the greatest league in the world. Share it with as many people as you can."

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (Drafted No. 45 by the Bruins, 2003)

My experience: "The biggest thing that stuck out was just getting drafted, hearing your name being called."

My advice: "No matter what happens, no matter which number you're getting picked, all you need is a chance. That's what you should focus on and put in the work to get ready and make a case for yourself once you get to training camp."

Robin Lehner, New York Islanders (Drafted No. 46 by the Ottawa Senators, 2009)

My experience: "I was in Sweden when I was drafted. I wasn't over here. I just got a phone call from my agent saying I was drafted by Ottawa. I was pretty surprised, I remember, because I had a terrible combine meeting with Ottawa. Me and Tim Murray were getting into it. He was pretty hard on me and I was young and cocky too, so I gave him some attitude back, so I was really surprised that I was selected, but apparently Tim liked it. He's a great person.

"I remember he was saying that he was scouting me, he's been watching a bunch of my games and he said, "But you lose every game I've seen," or something like that. And I think I just told him, "You must've come to the wrong games," and there wasn't much more to it. We always laughed about it."

My advice: "Just enjoy it. It goes by quick. It feels like it was just a couple of years ago when I got drafted and it goes by in the blink of an eye. You really have to enjoy the journey and enjoy everything about it. Just appreciate and I think the advice I would have to people who don't (get selected) or don't go as high up as they would like, it doesn't really matter. It's what you do after the draft that matters and how much work you put in after the draft. Wherever you're picked, just work hard and you'll have a good future."

Video: Robin Lehner awarded the Masterton Trophy

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild (Drafted No. 59 by the Wild, 2010)

My experience: "It was in L.A. at the Staples Center and I grew up, being (in Las Vegas) playing in L.A. a lot, so it was fun to be there and my family was able to be out there because it was a short drive for them. It was a fun experience. Minnesota wasn't somebody that we thought was in that draft position and it was kind of the unknown of it all that made it a lot of fun. I had to learn a lot about Minnesota, and the players and coaches and the team in general. But it made it a lot of fun to do that and I really, really enjoyed it."

My advice: "The draft is a very small piece of your career, so if you're drafted in the first round or the seventh round, if you do the right things and you work hard, you're still going to make it. I was told I was going to be a late first round pick and I ended up almost in the third round. There was so-called no reason for it, but for me it didn't stop me and I just wanted to keep working hard. We had thought it was going to be a possibly end of the first round thing and then when it didn't happen, 'Well you're going to be in the first five picks in the second round' and it ended up being 59, the second-to-last pick in the second round, so it was kind of crazy how it worked out. 

"But it just goes to show that the draft is a crazy time for even the general managers and coaches and staff, sometimes you're overlooked or you get passed up for someone else but it doesn't mean you're any worse of a player, it's just what that team needs at the time."

Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars (Drafted No. 85 by the St. Louis Blues, 2005)

My experience: "I was drafted during that lockout season so we didn't go there. I was at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri on dialup internet and it was about 25 picks behind. But I got a call from my agent, and I was from St. Louis, and he called me and he asked me if I knew how to get to the rink in St. Louis and that I was drafted by the Blues. To be a kid from St. Louis and drafted by them, it was a dream come true and it was a lot of fun."

My advice: "It doesn't matter where you get drafted. It's just the first step and it doesn't mean much. There's a lot of hard work ahead of you. Enjoy the night, but just realize it's just the beginning."

Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues (Drafted No. 88 by the Blues, 2011)

My experience: "I didn't really know what to think back then. I was a young kid. Thankfully I got picked by the St. Louis Blues and it was pretty special, putting on a jersey, throwing on a hat and being a part of the organization, it was special. You have interviews, but you never really know what teams are interested. I knew St. Louis was interested and it worked out that way."

My advice: "Don't stress. Just let it happen. Whatever is meant to happen will happen."

Video: Binnington on bouncing back, Blues' first Cup win

Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights (Drafted No. 178 by the Ottawa Senators, 2010)

My experience: "I was kind of sweating it out at my parents' cottage, just with family. My brother was there and he was watching all the picks go by. It wasn't easy, but eventually, getting picked and getting that call from a scout in Ottawa was very special."

My advice: "Just enjoy it. You only get drafted once. No matter where you get picked it's the first step and you have a chance to make the NHL and if you're good enough, you'll get a chance."

Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames (Undrafted, signed with the Flames in 2004)

My experience: "I wasn't good enough (in 2001) to even be thinking about (the draft). It's probably a good thing. I was never drafted in junior or the NHL so I was so far removed I didn't even think about it and I think that was a good thing in the long run for me. I just stuck with it and used that as motivation."

My advice: "Don't give up and stick with it because you never know. I bet you there's a lot of people who are looking at me right now who I played with or played against that are saying, 'Wow I can't believe that guy made it.' Don't give up. That's the message for sure."

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