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My Draft Day: Jayce Hawryluk

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

The number 32 has become pretty special to Jayce Hawryluk.

After being selected with the 32nd overall pick by the Brandon Wheat Kings in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, the high-energy winger was serendipitously taken in the same spot three years later by the Florida Panthers in the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA.

"At the time, it didn't cross my mind," Hawryluk said when asked about being taken in the same spot in both his junior and professional drafts. "Then when people realized that I went 32 in both drafts and things started to come out about it, it was pretty cool. It's definitely neat, for sure."

Leading Florida's AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds, with 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) through the first 25 games of the 2018-19 season, Hawryluk finally earned his long-awaited call-up to the Panthers on Dec. 15 - a dream he'd been chasing ever since the draft.

Helping the Panthers to a 4-3 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at BB&T Center on the day of his call-up, the 23-year-old racked up four hits - including a game-high three in the first period -- and two shots on goal while seeing 5:55 of ice time in the team's bottom-six.

"It's a special night," Hawryluk said after his debut. "Happy to get the win. Just looking forward to the road ahead and getting many more wins with the team… I'll never forget [this game]."

Hawryluk went on to suit up in 42 games with Florida, going back to the AHL only for brief stints around the All-Star break and at the end of the season to get in some added ice time. Averaging 9:26 of ice time per game during his first NHL tour, he finished with seven goals and five assists.

With the latest installment of the draft coming up on June 21-22 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C.,'s Jameson Olive recently sat down with Hawryluk to take a look back at his own draft day, including where he thought he'd land and what it meant to become a Panther. We're already coming up on the five-year anniversary of the day you were drafted. When you hear that said out loud, what goes through your mind?

HAWRYLUK: It's definitely been a long time since the draft. Sometimes it feels like yesterday, but sometimes it feels like forever ago. Looking back at that day, it was really full of so much excitement. I had my whole family there. That was the main thing that I enjoyed. Whenever you get your name called at the NHL Draft, it's a feeling that you'll never forget and a feeling that's kind of hard to explain. It's been a rollercoaster since the draft, but I've enjoyed it. It's not done yet. The journey's still going. You entered the 2014 draft as the 37th-ranked North American Skater, according to NHL Central Scouting. With that in mind, did you attend the first day of the draft thinking there was a chance you could end up sliding into the first round?

HAWRYLUK: I was there on the first day. I actually talked to a few teams, so I thought maybe there was a possibility that I might got at the end of Round 1, but I wasn't sure. There was no certainty, but I was there for the whole day, just taking in the experience. Honestly, seeing my friend drafted at the end of the first round was probably just as exciting as if I got drafted just because we'd been through so much together over the years. That day was amazing, too. Who was that friend?

HAWRYLUK: John Quenneville, who was taken by New Jersey with the last pick in the first round. We played together for four seasons in Brandon. It was really special to see him picked. Speaking of Brandon, you led the Wheat Kings in scoring with 64 points (24 goals, 40 assists) in the season leading up to the draft. At that time, were you paying attention at all to where you were on all of the pre-draft rankings that season?

HAWRYLUK: Not at all. Our team was so good that year that I just enjoyed coming to the rink every day and playing hockey. I had two of the best linemates I could ever ask for that year, and without them none of that would've ever happened. That whole year was just amazing. The group we had was a special group that I'll never forget. We still keep in touch to this day. Knowing that you might not be selected, how did you spend Round 1 of the draft?

HAWRYLUK: I was just in the stands hanging out with my family. I was really just enjoying the atmosphere of the whole thing. I didn't know if I was going to get called, so I didn't get my hopes up and enjoyed the moment. Given that you knew you'd be drafted at some point on the second day, was the night before Day 2 of the draft more stressful than the night before Day 1?

HAWRYLUK: Honestly, no. It wasn't really stressful at all. I credit that to my meeting with Dale [Panthers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Dale Tallon]. He promised me that they'd take me at 32 if I was there. That put me at ease. I felt that I must be going there if they're promising me that. The meeting was just so good. It just went so well that I couldn't have seen myself going anywhere else. Obviously Dale stuck to his word and that's where I went. You obviously had some previous communication with the Panthers, but what were those last few meetings like once you arrived at the draft?

HAWRYLUK: They're obviously a little bit intimidating. You walk into a room of about 40 people, so that's intimidating, right? But Dale made me feel really comfortable right when I walked into the room. He's an easy guy to talk to. He's been through it all, so he knew what we were going through as well. He made it super easy on me. Obviously the meetings are pretty intense. Some were little with two or three guys and others had 40. Florida just happened to have everyone in there. It was intimidating, but I enjoyed it. I just tried to soak it all in and live in the moment. By the time you get to the draft, teams have already watched hours of video and have a pretty good idea of who you are as a hockey player. With that said, did you feel those final meetings were more about getting to know you as a person?

HAWRYLUK: Yeah, it was more just shooting the breeze with Dale. Obviously you talk a little bit about hockey, but for him it was more about getting to know the player, like what kind of person you are and all that sort of thing. I think that's one of the main things Dale looks for. Even though you expected the Panthers to take you with the 32nd overall pick, were you still pretty nervous when you arrived at the arena for Round 2?

HAWRYLUK: Anything can happen, but I had a good feeling. I wasn't completely sold I was going to them, but 95-percent of me thought I was going with that pick. I was obviously super, super excited to be picked by the Panthers. It was a dream come true. Like I said, it's a day and a feeling that I'll never forget. What do you remember about those first few minutes after your named was called?

HAWRYLUK: It's kind of a blur. There's so much going on. You're walking by so many people and hugging so many people. It's just a blur. There's so many emotions and thoughts going through you. You try and live in the moment, but there's so much going on that it's kind of hard. What did it mean to share that moment with your family?

HAWRYLUK: It was awesome. I wouldn't' have wanted to have anyone else there. How much did you enjoy the post-draft media gauntlet?

HAWRYLUK: It was just crazy. You go from one room to a next doing stuff. The whole experience was awesome. I really enjoyed it. How did you celebrate later on when things started to wind down?

HAWRYLUK: I think we sat in the suite afterwards and just enjoyed the rest of the draft. There were still five rounds to go. I think we just shot the breeze with everyone up in the booth. After that, me and my brothers and my cousin went to a Phillies game. We just enjoyed the ballgame and hung out. Did you wear your Panthers jersey to the game?

HAWRLYUK: [Laughs]. No. Where does that jersey reside today?

HAWRYLUK: It's at my parents' house. As someone who's already been through the experience, what advice do you have for the next group of Panthers about to be drafted later this month?

HAWRYLUK: Just try and soak it in. Enjoy the moment. It doesn't last forever. Before you know it, you're going to be at this level and competing for a spot. Just enjoy it. It's an awesome time. It's going to be one of the best days of your life, I'd say. Take it all in.

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