All Jason Spezza
really knew was the when.
But where? The junior hockey sensation wasn’t entirely sure about the answer to that question when he and his family arrived at the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise, Fla., for the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
“We kind of knew I was going second,” said the Ottawa Senators centre, who was selected in exactly that spot behind Ilya Kovalchuk, the Russian hotshot chosen No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Thrashers.
“I just didn’t know where I was going because there were a few teams involved in trying to make a trade (with the New York Islanders, who held the second pick going into the draft). When I found out it was Ottawa, I was pretty excited.”
So were the hockey fans back home in the nation’s capital – and they would be for a few more years after, when they saw the end result of what many regard as perhaps the best trade in Senators history. The Islanders acquired the services of centre Alexei Yashin, the first No. 1 pick in Ottawa franchise history, while defenceman Zdeno Chara came the Senators way along with forward Bill Muckalt and the No. 2 pick that would turn out to be Spezza..
The Toronto native couldn’t have been happier with how everything played out. He wound up with a franchise that was on the rise and in a hockey-mad Canadian market to boot.
Spezza had plenty of family and friends around to share the moment.
“My grandparents were there. My brother, my sister, my parents,” he said. “We had a few friends in town. A couple of my buddies were getting drafted, too, so it was nice to just have everybody around.”
Looking back now, Spezza remembers it as a frenzied two days in south Florida.
“Everything happens so fast on draft day,” he said. “They whisk you away (after you’re selected) and you do two hours of pictures. Then we had a little reception at night and you get to meet the other guys who were drafted.
“It’s a pretty whirlwind, hectic couple of days.”
Soon enough, though, every player realizes that for all its excitement, draft day is merely the beginning of the road toward a career in the National Hockey League. And not necessarily a make-or-break moment for any prospect.
“The draft is an exciting time,” said Spezza. “You just have fun with it. Once it’s all said and done and you get playing, you realize how insignificant the draft really is. It seems like the biggest thing in the world at the time and you put a lot of stock into it.
“But if things don’t work out for guys (that day), you can’t get discouraged. You just have fun with it and enjoy it.”