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Q&A: Denis Potvin on the Draft

by Mike Lewis / Florida Panthers

At the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft, the New York Islanders selected defenseman Denis Potvin of the Ottawa 67’s (OHA) first overall.

A can’t-miss prospect at the time, Potvin went onto a prolific career with the Islanders, winning four consecutive Stanley Cups and earning a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame after retiring from the game. recently caught up with the Panthers Television Color Analyst to talk about his Draft experience, his thoughts on the upcoming Draft and his advice for future Florida Panthers.

What are some of the memories you have of your Draft day?

Potvin: Oh boy (laughs)…Well, I’ll tell you it really starts long before Draft day. Back then it was kind of like how it is now, you’re not sure where you’re going to place, where you’re going to go. In my case, I went first overall in 1973, but I really didn’t have any idea until Mr. Campbell, the President of the NHL at the time put down the hammer and said ‘okay the New York Islanders, you have your pick’.

It [was] a really exciting time, with me of course I had my parents there. I sat at the table with Bill Torrey and the other New York Islanders executives. But here’s the ticket, at the very last moment, just before Mr. Campbell decided to open up the Draft, Sam Pollock of the Montreal Canadiens walked all the way across the floor and made one last offer to Bill Torrey, for the rights to pick first. It was assumed that Montreal wanted to pick me first, but Bill Torrey wouldn’t budge. He said ‘we’re taking Denis no matter how many players you’re offering’ and that’s the way it went. I became a New York Islander from then on until the rest of my career.

How has the Draft changed from 1973 to now?

Potvin: Obviously it’s become much more of a media frenzy type of thing, also ours was not attended by fans. I think there’s going to be a lot of people in the building [this year] and I’m excited about that at BB&T Center for the Draft. It wasn’t as big in a media sense, but I think that for the players and the teams, all of the things that really matter...for instance, the excitement, whether or not the scouts made the right choices, the General Manager made the right decisions, whether or not the player is going to pan out and trades.

I think all of the important things at the Draft, I’m sure are identical. The emotions and all of the people who put the time and effort into picking one player over another and seeing if it fits best with the organization is key.

How important is the Draft in setting an identity for your team’s future?

Potvin: When you think back to all of the great teams in the NHL, Montreal was able to get a high pick in a guy named Guy LaFleur, the Philadelphia Flyers were able to get a high pick in a guy named Bobby Clarke and on and on. When you think about the character of certain teams, the character really starts at the Draft table. If you are the young Florida Panthers and you’re drafting Aaron Ekblad, you’ve got to know that [he’s] being tabbed as not only a player, but a guy who’s going to carry himself as a Florida Panther on the ice and off the ice in terms of character all the way through and I think that’s never changed.

Obviously Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are headlining the Draft here, but what are your thoughts on the Draft class?

Potvin: I do think it’s going to be an exceptional Draft because of those two players, but when I had a chance to talk to Dale Tallon and I’ve talked to other team executives, being in Ottawa in the Summer time, there are a lot of good young players available. Maybe not in the category of those two young players, but I think what you’re seeing is a real good crop of players. You see where Jonathan Toews was picked and where a lot of great players were picked, [players like] Duncan Keith, and you learn it’s not always in the top two players.

Do you have any advice for some of the future Panthers who will be selected on Draft day?

Potvin: Show up ready. When you show up at the first Florida Panthers Development Camp or more importantly, Training Camp with the veterans, make sure that you bring your best. Meaning, be in great shape, be emotionally and physically ready, because you’re going to be judged from that first day on. I know they are going to be well schooled when it comes in terms of how to deal with media, but the pressure of coming into the season will come first from the dressing room itself. Your teammates, the veterans are going to look at you and say ‘show us what you’ve got’. I think everybody understands it’s difficult for an 18-year old to come in and make an immediate impact, but over time and of course the team’s going to protect him, come in ready and come in with confidence.

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