I know Howdy said in his draft diary that the day of the draft is the longest day of your life.
You never know where you're going to get picked. I talked to my agent and stuff, and there were a bunch of draft rankings and mock drafts - I thought I was going to at around No. 20. But obviously, that didn't happen.
I kept falling, and I remember they got to pick 25. I remember seeing the Rangers at 28. At that point, I was kind of hoping… Me and my dad and my cousin were talking there in the stands of the Consol Energy Center, and I was like, "I hope I drop a few more, actually, and end up in New York." It's just crazy when it actually happens.
There were 28 teams that came to my Combine in 2012, and I met with every single one of them. I remember my meeting with the Rangers. I knew they were really interested, for sure. They didn't tell me anything like, "If you're there at 28, we're taking you" - nothing like that - but I knew they liked American players. At the time, they had Ryan McDonagh, who was a guy I always looked up to. At the Combine, every single team asks you, "Who do you think you play like?" I always would tell them, "McDonagh." Or that I would like to play like McDonagh. I looked up to him a lot in high school and college.
Still, the idea of getting picked by his team - it was crazy to think it might actually happen.
I knew I had a good interview with New York. They definitely seemed like they liked me. That interview period, though - it was an absolute grind. Mentally, it was actually super hard. You're meeting with teams every 20 minutes and trying to put on your best face, trying to make them like you, but that's a long time. Those two days were definitely really long, and some of the teams get, like, psychologists in there, just staring you down.
And some of the questions those teams ask you… There were definitely some weird ones. I think one was like, "If you were an animal, what animal would you be?" Just crazy stuff like that. I don't even know what I said. I have no clue. I'm not an animal, I'm a person.
The fitness testing part of the Combine isn't much easier. Everyone talks about the bike tests - the Wingate and the VO2 - and there's a reason. There's two or three guys next to you on the bikes, and you're basically just killing yourself, and you've got every team's trainer and scouts watching you. You're trying to give your best effort, but those aren't fun. They literally had a throw-up room next to the bikes. I didn't puke, but I went back to that room afterward, and two guys came in right behind me and just started yakking and that almost made me puke. It was disgusting. Yeah, the bike tests are definitely the hardest.
The day of my draft was a little unusual. I actually had meetings with two teams that morning. They called my agent at around 10 AM and said they wanted to have a second interview. I guess that's not crazy rare, but it was kind of weird.
About 10 hours later, there I was, waiting to be called, and I was getting a little nervous. I wanted to go in the first round. That was always a goal of mine, and when I kept falling… Three hours is a long time to just be sitting there, just overthinking everything and sweating it out.
But once you get picked, all of that goes away. It's one of the best feelings ever.
The first thing I did when the Rangers called my name at No. 28 was hug every person I brought with me to the draft. There were a lot of people. I had my parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, brother, cousins - we had, like, 20 people there. Now, I think there's actually a cap on how many people you can bring to the draft with you, probably because of people like myself. Sorry, guys.
After you get called, everything really does happen so fast. You get your jersey, you take your picture, and after that, you're all over the rink for more pictures and autographs. It's all kind of a blur, but while it's happening, you're on Cloud 9. It's a great feeling for sure.
To the guys getting drafted this year, I would just tell them to enjoy the moment. You obviously work so hard in your career, and you deserve to have a good night and take it all in, especially because once you're drafted, all the work begins. You've got to really start focusing on playing well and you've got to prove that you can play in the NHL.
Once you get drafted, you can kind of see your dream in the near future, so you try to work as hard as you can to get there, and it's all worth it.
Right now, I'm at the competition committee meetings in Toronto, and even here, everyone's coming up to me like, "Oh, man, how is it playing in New York? I would love to do it someday." The New York Rangers are the pinnacle of hockey in the NHL and you get to play in what I think is the best city in the world, in front of the best fans in the world. It's amazing.
I'm very, very fortunate to have been able to get drafted by the Rangers. I definitely don't take it for granted.
Even if I had to drop a little to make it happen.