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NHL Draft

Trio eligible for 2018 NHL Draft had mentor in Hischier

Halifax teammates, Canada U-18 hopefuls watched 2017 top pick develop, handle expectations in juniors

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

CALGARY -- Three skaters eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft had a front-row seat of what they might expect this season.

Forward Benoit-Olivier Groulx, defenseman Jared McIsaac and goaltender Alexis Gravel, who each play for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, watched their teammate, center Nico Hischier, handle his stressful, season-long draft year. 

Hischier was selected by the New Jersey Devils with the No. 1 pick of the 2017 draft on June 23.

"I think you take as much away from it as you can," said McIsaac, 17. "I was lucky enough to play with him last year. It was definitely cool seeing him go through that whole process."

That process included media requests, meetings with scouts and constant scrutiny.

"Nico is unreal … unreal player and unreal person," said Groulx, 17. "He's a humble guy. We can learn as much from him on the ice as off the ice. It was great to have him with us last year. He had a meeting probably every game. I was asking him a couple questions about the meetings and everything.

"He gave me advice. It was great to be around him."

With Hischier likely to reach the NHL this season, Groulx, McIsaac and Gravel plan to support one another, and each will try to make an impression.

"For sure," Groulx said. "It's hockey. It's life, too. There's a lot of ups and downs. You've just got to be tough mentally and go through this period of time. Having guys with us, we can help each other during this. I'm really pumped for this season.

"You have a lot of expectations, a lot of pressure. You don't want to put too much on yourself. I think having other guys on your team living the same thing as you are … you can help each other in that situation."

All three were rookies in the QMJHL last season. Groulx had 31 points (17 goals, 14 assists) in 62 games, and McIsaac had 32 point (four goals, 28 assists) in 59 games. Gravel was 17-24-3 with a 3.36 goals-against average and .894 save percentage in 50 games.

Each are attending Canada's National Men's Summer Under-18 Team selection camp at Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary. If selected, they will represent Canada at the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in Breclav, Czech Republic, and Bratislava, Slovakia, from Aug. 7-12.

"We're all real good buddies," McIsaac said. "We talk a lot. We joke around with the draft and stuff. I think for the most part we're all focused on making this team right now and we're going to be focused on the season upcoming. I'd be lying if I said I don't think about the draft here and there, but it's going to be fun, and all three of us are going to soak it all in."

Their bond runs deep; each won silver as a member of Canada's U16 team at the 2016 Lillehammer Youth Olympics and were reunited in Halifax after being selected by the Mooseheads in the 2016 QMJHL Entry Draft.

Groulx was chosen with the No. 1 pick, and Halifax acquired the rights to the No. 2 pick in a trade with Baie-Comeau to draft McIsaac. Halifax then selected Gravel with the first pick in the second round (No. 20).

"When I got drafted I heard the trade while I was backstage," Groulx said. "I was like, 'Oh my god! This is happening!' Jared got drafted by us. We hugged each other. We were really happy. When Alex got drafted we were really excited.

"We knew how things were going to be."

And where things may be heading.

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