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Draft Memories: Scott Clemmensen

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Scott Clemmensen would go on to star at Boston College for four seasons before turning pro with the Devils after being selected in the eighth round of the 1997 NHL draft. (Courtesy: Boston College)

When it comes to the NHL draft, it really isn't where, when or by who you get drafted (by). It's all about what you do after that process.

No one on the Panthers current roster knows that better than netminder Scott Clemmensen. Entering his third year with the club, Clemmensen wasn't drafted in his first year of eligiblity (1996) and then when he was drafted a year later, he was selected in a round that no longer exists today (eighth round), going No. 215 overall.

Clemmensen was the 16th netminder selected in the 1997 NHL Draft, held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. New Jersey, in fact, as you'll find out was the only one to scout the Des Moines, Iowa native and used their first round pick on another netminder by the name of Jean-Francois Damphousse from Moncton of the QMJHL with the 24th overall selection.

Clemmensen would go on to star at Boston College for four seasons and helped lead his club to a National Championship his senior year. After graduating, he started his rookie season with the big club. After several years of bouncing between the AHL and NHL, Clemmensen got his first real chance after an injury to Martin Brodeur in the 2008-09 season. He parlayed that into a job with the Panthers. In two seasons with the Panthers, he's played in 54 games (17-19-9) and has posted a .911 save percentage and 2.74 goals against average. The netminder reflects back on the June afternoon when his name was called as well as the entire draft process on his way to becoming a Devil. You’re story's a little different than in other players, obviously, drafted in the eighth round. What was your draft year like for you, playing with the Des Moines Buccaneers?

Clemmensen: "Yeah, my draft day memories and experiences are going to be pretty different than most other guys. I was drafted in my second year of eligibility.

"Growing up in Iowa and playing hockey there, I knew that getting drafted was going to be a long shot. When I turned 18, I was playing for the junior team in the USHL, for my home town team – the Des Moines Buccaneers. At the time, there weren’t a lot of players being drafted out of that league. There was maybe five or six total. So, playing in that league at the time, and in the role that I was (where I was the third string goalie as an 18-year-old), I pretty much knew that I wasn’t going to get drafted in my first year of eligibility. In my second year with the team, I was 19 years-old. I had a pretty good season and played in the USHL All-Star game. Scouts were looking more and more at that league for draftees. So going into that summer, I still knew that I was a long shot to get drafted.

"The New Jersey Devils did talk to me a little bit, briefly. I made a road trip up to Minnesota just to see them at St. Thomas University, and run through a pre-draft workout with them. As I said before, I knew it was a long shot at best. I didn’t put any stock into it; I didn’t go to the draft at all." What did you do on your draft day?

Clemmensen: "I was actually working that night – I was a waiter at a Chili’s restaurant in Des Moines. I had a shift that night, so I went to work. The draft started at around noon and my parents came in at about 9 o’clock at night. They told me that they had just gotten a call from the New Jersey Devils saying that they had selected me in the eighth round. Even though I knew it was a long shot to get drafted, I knew it was an even longer shot to play in the NHL.

"So I just thought it was kind of neat, and I didn’t put much stock into my pro career at that time. Being a 19-year-old and being drafted in the eighth round, I still knew that playing professionally, let alone in the NHL, was still a long shot. So my preparation leading up to the draft, the draft itself, and even being drafted in the 8th round, I didn’t really think much about it. I had gotten a scholarship to go to Boston College, so that was really the extent of my hockey preparation at the time – just focusing on playing college hockey." In your conversations with New Jersey, did they seem really interested? Luke warm? What did they tell you?

Clemmensen: "I knew that if I did get drafted, it would have been in one of the later rounds. At that point it’s just kind of a gamble with players. It wasn’t that they had expressed an extreme interest in me. It was enough for them to invite me up to Minnesota to go through the pre-draft workout. So they saw enough to invite me to that. I knew my chances of making the NHL were still pretty slim." What was the workout like?

Clemmensen: Laughs "I believe it was mostly just running on a treadmill. That’s what it was." Nothing really ice related? They didn’t want to see you taking shots or anything?

Clemmensen: "Nope. It was a complete off-ice workout. But that was the hardest test that I did, just running on the treadmill - I’m not a good runner anyway. Laughs It was not an enjoyable experience." What did your parents say? Just, “You got drafted?” Were they busting at the seams when they came in?

Clemmensen: "I think we shared the same feelings about the draft. It was just neat to be drafted. I think at the time I was the first Iowan to be drafted; no one else from the state had been drafted. So, it was one of those neat things – we didn’t read too much into it, to tell you the truth. We didn’t put a lot of stock into the draft before it happened, and even being drafted in the eighth round in my second year of eligibility, we still thought it was neat, but after it was all said and done we shared the same thought about a pro career being very much a long shot.

"It’s different than a player who is projected to be a first rounder, who is going to go through the entire skills combine, and going to meet with every team and get drafted in the first round. It’s just a question of who, and he knows that he is going to be a piece of that team’s puzzle for the future. My draft day experience was very different than that." Did you get any media attention, at least from the local newspaper?

Clemmensen: "I did. There was an article in the sports section the next day, which I was kind of surprised at, simply because hockey isn’t a very big sport in Iowa." You said it was a long shot. Was there a moment when you thought, “Maybe I can play in the NHL?” Was it when you were playing well in college?

Clemmensen: "Well, there was, but that wouldn’t come until much later. I was drafted in the summer of ’97. I didn’t even think about a professional career, let alone the NHL, until the spring semester of my senior year at Boston College, which was 2001.

"Upon graduation, I thought that I would try to give professional hockey a chance, and try to put off getting a real job as long as possible. That was my only goal at the time. That fall of 2001, I went to my first training camp with the Devils, and that was the first time that I thought I might have a shot at playing in the NHL. I only say that because I didn’t have a barometer at the time of where I stood skill wise until I actually got to training camp and played against those NHL players. I just didn’t know where I was. They’re the best players in the world. I didn’t think about where I stood in terms of where the elite players in the world were. I didn’t know if I could match up with them until I actually got to my first training camp. So, that was quite a ways after that summer of ’97. I didn’t put much thought into playing in the NHL until then." They had some really good teams back then.

Clemmensen: "Yeah, they won the Stanley Cup in 1995. I was drafted in 1997, in the eighth round, and that year they also drafted a goalie in the first round. Then they drafted a goalie in the first round in 1999. They went on to win a Stanley Cup in 2000 and 2003.

"What was interesting was, I actually made the Devils team in my first training camp in 2001 – even though there were a couple of other goalies in the organization who were first-round draft picks." That’s got to make you feel pretty good about yourself?

Clemmensen: "Yeah for sure. And it did. I think that’s what really helped me progress in the minors – knowing that I could play at the NHL level, and I knew that the Devils were an organization that would give me the opportunity, even though I was an eighth rounder.

"A lot of organizations would overlook an eighth rounder and just try to develop their first rounders and give them the opportunity. There were two first rounders in the organization – so most importantly to me, I knew the Devils would give me a fair opportunity along with the other goalies in the system. So that was a big starting point in my professional career, starting out with a Devils team in my first training camp there.

"Ultimately, I was sent back to the minors about six weeks later, and I played most of the next three years in the minors. But, I knew that I could play, and that the Devils would give me a fair opportunity."
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