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Today, across North America and Europe, hundreds of young men are anxiously awaiting the moment when their name is called at the 2006 National Hockey League Entry Draft. Many of the higher-rated prospects will be in attendance at Vancouver's GM Place this afternoon and will emerge from the arena crowd once selected, like a high-stakes game of "The Price Is Right." Others will be watching from afar, monitoring the proceedings on television or the Internet. While the 30 NHL clubs approach the event as an opportunity to replenish the organization's talent, each draftee is part of a larger human drama that makes the NHL Entry Draft so compelling.
The 2005 iteration, held in Ottawa on July 30, was rather unconventional. The NHL was returning after a lengthy work stoppage, and only a handful of prospects were invited to attend the scaled-back selection ceremony. That didn't prevent the day from being one the 2005 Predators draftees will never forget.
"It was good," said Predators first-round pick Ryan Parent, who was among the few in attendance in Ottawa. "It was a smaller draft--only 20 players were there--so it was a little more nerve-wracking than other years. But you're at the draft, so everything is exciting.
"Everything runs through your head," the then-18-year-old defenseman added. "You don't know where you're going to go, if you're going to go. It's probably the most nervous I've ever been in my life, but then you're the happiest you've ever been right after."
For defenseman Cody Franson, the feeling was similar despite being 2,600 miles west in Sicamous, B.C. "It was amazing," the third Nashville selection said. "We were watching the draft on TV for the first round. Obviously I didn't go [in that round] but I wasn't expected to, so it wasn't a big downfall or anything like that. We had a whole bunch of family over. I think by 9:30 [that morning] there were about 50 people at our house. We're sitting there watching the computer and my name popped up and they called. There was just a lot of hugs and congratulations, stuff like that. It was really exciting."
For others, the reaction was a bit delayed. "I was watching, tuning in here and there," said Cal O'Reilly, a Toronto native who was Nashville's fourth choice of the day. "I knew I was expected to go. I wasn't sure where or who. I actually stopped watching it for a while. Then my agent called and said, 'Congratulations, you're going to Nashville.' I was so happy. It was great."
O'Reilly expressed a little disappointment that circumstances prevented him and many other prospects from attending in person. Yet that also helped ease the prevailing fear among all those in the draft pool that the day will end without their name being called. "The basic thing is I got drafted," he said. "And it made it a little easier on me because I didn't have to go down [to Ottawa]. Because if I wouldn't have been drafted, I would have been really upset."
For similar reasons, Franson had no problem being part of a nontraditional draft day. "You go down there and you risk going down there hoping to go in the first three rounds--or expecting to--and if you don't it's a big letdown," he said. "It was almost nicer just being able to stay home with all your friends and family and stuff. Rather than just being able to share it with your parents, you can share it with everybody. I kind of almost enjoyed it more, being able to stay home and being with my grandparents and uncles and aunties."
Many prospects won't have that luxury today, as the draft returns to a more traditional arrangement. Though the event has been shortened from nine rounds to seven and from two days to one, many more young men will be sitting on pins in needles in GM Place, hoping the next name called will be theirs. Not only are the 30 teams redefining their own future on draft day, but they happen to be doing the same for more than 200 talented individuals.