|Defenceman Patrick Wiercioch is well on his way to adding the kind of size and strength that made the Senators grab him with their second-round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images).
Even a year later, the sentiment still remains the same.
“It’s a tremendous honour to be picked by this organization,” said defenceman Patrick Wiercioch
, the second-round gem the Ottawa Senators acquired during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place. “I felt it last year, how you were welcomed into the locker room and everything. Definitely, for those guys, it’s going to be a thrill.”
The “guys” Wiercioch refers to are the next crop of prospects the Senators will land during the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, to be held Friday and Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Most, if not all of them, will meet up with Wiercioch and a number of other top prospects next week, when the Senators hold their annual development camp at the Bell Sensplex.
Also slated to be on hand for that camp will be the remainder of the Senators’ draft class of 2008: Prized defenceman Erik Karlsson
(first round), gritty forward Zack Smith
(third round), forwards Andre Petersson and Derek Grant
(both fourth round), defenceman Mark Borowiecki (fifth) and forward Emil Sandin (seventh).
Collectively, it’s a group that Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray still “feels strong” about. Karlsson, expected to challenge for a roster spot in Ottawa at training camp in September, is projected to be a future star. Smith, who led the Binghamton Senators in goal scoring last season, has a shot to be a Senator on opening night of the 2009-10 season, too.
Then there is Wiercioch, a 6-foot-4 defenceman who figures to have a home on the Senators blue line sooner rather than later.
“If he would have played the whole year (in 2007-08) in the USHL (United States Hockey League with the Omaha Lancers), he would have been a first-round pick. That’s how we felt about him,” said Murray of the player the Senators drafted 42nd overall. “He’s a hard-working kid who’s going to put on the necessary muscle and weight to be an NHL player. It’s just a matter of time.
“So I feel he’s a first-round talent that we got in the second round just because of certain circumstances.”
Wiercioch, an 18-year-old native of Maple Ridge, B.C., isn’t waiting to deal with the weight issue. By the end of his freshman season at the University of Denver, he checked in at 185 pounds. Now, he says he’s “probably close to 195-200 pounds.”
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said, echoing Murray’s comments. “Since the season ended, it’s been really positive strides in my overall strength and body weight.”
"If he would have played the whole year (in 2007-08) in the USHL (with the Omaha Lancers), he would have been a first-round pick. That's how we felt about him. He's a hard-working kid who's going to put on the necessary muscle and weight to be an NHL player. It's just a matter of time. So I feel he's a first-round talent that we got in the second round just because of certain circumstances." - Tim Murray
That road, he’ll quickly tell you, began at his first Senators development camp last summer. It carried over to a standout first year at Denver – he was the top-scoring freshman blueliner in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and ranked second among all defencemen nationally – and earned him an invite to Canada’s national junior team selection camp in December.
“Honestly, it was seeing the guys (at development camp) that were so close to making it and hadn’t yet stuck in the league,” said Wiercioch. “Seeing where they were in their development curve and trying to judge myself on where I was at… I think it was just seeing how much time and effort they put in to make hockey more of a lifestyle than really just a game. That was probably the biggest thing I took out of development camp.”
Wiercioch is “honoured” that Hockey Canada wants him back at its summer junior camp, the first step on the road toward representing the country at the 2010 world juniors in Saskatchewan.
“I’m definitely feeling more confident I can make the team this year,” he said.
Once again, he’ll use Senators development camp as a key building block.
“It’s a great starting point to get together and compete against guys that are trying to work toward the same goal,” he said. “But once you get home, you’ve got to do it on your own because you know every guy that leaves here will be doing the exact same thing.”