Good things, it’s often been said, come to those who wait.
Just ask Ottawa Senators defenceman Andrej Meszaros, whose time spent in the seats on a Saturday afternoon in June 2004 in Raleigh, N.C., lasted longer than he’d hoped or expected.
Truth be told, Meszaros figured he would hear his name called much sooner – the Senators selected him 23rd overall – during that year’s National Hockey League entry draft.
Needless to say, it made for a rather nerve-wracking few hours at the RBC Center, home of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, before the Senators finally made Meszaros’s day.
“I was supposed to go a little higher than 23rd (according to pre-draft rankings), so I was kind of expecting to go earlier,” said Meszaros, the fifth of nine defencemen chosen during the first round. “When I didn’t, I thought ‘oh my God, what’s going to happen?’ Then Ottawa just said my name and the stress (went away).
“It was kind of a relief for me that I really was drafted and it was a great moment for me and for sure, a great memory.”
Meszaros, who had spent the previous two seasons playing for Dukla Trencin in his native Slovakia, arrived in Raleigh the night before the draft with a group of family and friends. They shared a quiet dinner, then headed out to the RBC Center the next morning to await the moment every young hockey player dreams about.
Some 291 players were selected in the 2004 entry draft. It was a selection, though, that will be best remembered – and for years to come, no doubt – for the two names chosen right at the top. The Washington Capitals made Russian phenom Alexander Ovechkin the No. 1 overall pick, then the Pittsburgh Penguins followed with the consensus second choice – another Russian forward, Evgeni Malkin.
Ovechkin and Malkin now rate among the game’s top players. Both will be finalists for the Hart Trophy, presented annually to the NHL’s most valuable player, when the NHL awards are handed out June 12 in Toronto.
A few months after his big day in Raleigh, Meszaros headed across the ocean to join the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants. It was a decision, he said, that helped him adapt to the language and lifestyle in North America – two things Meszaros believes helped smooth his transition into the Senators lineup a year later.
Though he wasn’t expected to make the team when he arrived at Senators training camp in 2005, Meszaros literally played his way onto the roster. He’s been a mainstay on the Ottawa blue line ever since.
“Just stay humble and work hard,” Meszaros said of the approach he took as a first-round pick. “I think everybody has a chance and a shot to play in the NHL, so you just have to keep working hard and wait for your opportunity.
“When you have it, just take advantage of it.”