Jim O’Brien’s big moment came much later than most.
After all, it’s not every day that the Ottawa Senators wait until almost the very end of the first round to make a pick in an NHL entry draft. But there was O’Brien, getting the call a year ago at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, in the No. 29 spot – the position customarily reserved for the Stanley Cup finalist the previous season.
Didn’t matter, though, to the native of Maplewood, Minn. The way O’Brien still sees it, the wait was definitely worth it.
“I was just sitting there hoping to get picked,” he said of his day at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. “When Ottawa picked me, I was really happy. It’s a great team, a great organization and (there was) just a great sigh of relief. I was really happy I was able to go to such a good team.”
Nothing, of course, beats the moment when a giddy young prospect makes his way to the draft stage and slips on the jersey of the NHL team that’s just drafted him, then is photographed with smiling executives from that club.
“That was a really happy moment,” said O’Brien, 19, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound forward. “You’re sitting there (in the arena) and… I wasn’t really nervous but once you finally get picked, you get to relax a little bit. Then it finally hits you and you’re just really happy.”
O’Brien said hearing his name called by the Senators was a bit of a surprise.
“Coming in, no, I didn’t have any hints or ideas (that Ottawa might select him),” he said. “I don’t think many teams really said ‘we’re going to pick you’ or anything like that.”
After shoulder surgery last summer, the Senators prospect spent the past season with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League – the same loop that produced the Memorial Cup-champion Spokane Chiefs. He racked up 55 points in 70 games, including 21 goals, then added another eight points in two playoff series before the T-Birds were eliminated by the Tri-City Americans.
“It was a little bit different being in a new league and everything,” said O’Brien of his debut season in the WHL. “But I think once I got adjusted (to it) and got comfortable out there, the season went really well.”
But even a year later, the young player whose NHL dreams truly began to take life during his high school hockey days in Minnesota still looks back with fondness upon the moment when it all finally seemed oh so very real.
“The biggest thing was the excitement,” he said about his draft day. “The feeling of sitting there… you’re a little bit nervous but once you finally get it done with, you’re really excited and you’re happy that it’s over.
“It’s a great experience for everybody who goes there.”
For the next wave of future stars, that experience will come June 20-21 in Ottawa, where the 2008 NHL Entry Draft will take place. The Senators currently hold the 18th selection in that draft, the first to be held at Scotiabank Place.