|Senators goaltending prospect Chris Driedger, a third-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, is savouring every moment of his first trip to Ottawa at the team's annual summer development camp (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).
If his draft status means anything, Chris Driedger is gaining some serious ground in the eyes of hockey scouts.
Three years ago, the Winnipeg native was a fourth-round pick in the Western Hockey League draft by the Tri-City Americans. Last weekend, however, he went one step better, hearing his named called by the Ottawa Senators in the third round (76th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh.
"I'm moving up," the 18-year-old stopper said with a grin during a break from the annual Senators summer development camp at the Bell Sensplex.
But this was surely more than just a one-round improvement, given the fact that Driedger's name came off the board long before he expected it would. Even almost a week after that magical day arrived, he's still astounded by everything that has transpired.
"Ottawa wanted to pick me in the third round and I was pretty excited about that," said Driedger, who didn't attend the draft on the advice of his agents with Titan Sports Management. "When I got the call, I was pretty excited and I was happy to go in the third round. That's pretty big for me. It's been nothing but excitement for me since then.
"My agent (Tony Matarazzo) called me as soon as it happened ... I wasn't (watching the draft) at that point because it was pretty early in the morning. To get a call at 9:30 in the morning ... it startled me. It caught me off guard, I guess."
Adding to the intrigue was the fact that, as far as Driedger knew, the Senators hadn't contacted him or his representatives prior to the draft.
"I guess they just knew a couple of guys who knew me pretty well," he said. "But I wasn't aware they were interested in me at all."
Turns out the Senators, with an organizational need for some goaltending depth, were paying plenty of attention to Driedger, who was dealt by the Americans to the Calgary Hitmen last summer.
"He's got good size. He's a big kid and he blocks the puck well," said Senators amateur scout George Fargher. "He's got pretty good positioning, he works real hard and he seems like a good kid."
While Fargher said the Senators believe Driedger "is three or four years away from being a real NHL prospect," they've given him something to shoot for now. Driedger, who posted a 24-12-3 record and a 2.80 goals-against average in 2011-12, is expected to be the Hitmen's starter next season and should see plenty of action.
"It looks good for me there next season," he said. "I have two more years in Calgary and I'm just taking it step by step. I'm doing the best I can and we'll see what happens."
Just being at development camp has been a veritable dream come true for Driedger, who's thrilled to have been drafted by a Canadian team. This week marks the first time he's ever visited Ottawa — "it's a beautiful city with great people" — and he's been a happy camper from the moment he arrived.
"It's pretty amazing being in the Sens dressing room, with all their trainers and coaches and all their facilities," said Driedger. "It's pretty amazing that way and the organization is great — (general manager) Bryan Murray is a great guy, too. I wasn't expecting to be treated this well, to be honest. It's just a pleasure being here."
For a guy for whom this opportunity came earlier than expected, it's almost surreal.
"Ever since I was a little kid, playing in the NHL was a dream," said Driedger. "When I got drafted ... it's kind of unreal, after the way I looked up to it since I was a kid until now. You get drafted and say 'wow, that went by quickly.' It's kind of huge when you look at it like that. It's kind of a cool feeling."