For the first time since 1999, the San Jose Sharks used a first-round NHL Entry Draft selection on a defenseman, using their 2006 top pick on Ty Wishart, the rugged Western Hockey League blueliner of the Prince George Cougars at 16th overall.
The Sharks wanted Wishart so much they were willing to deal with the Montreal Canadiens in order to move up four spots.
Wishart still has some growing to do, which is a frightening thought considering he currently stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs 205 pounds. Whether it's the WHL bantam draft, where he was picked in the second round, or NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of 16th overall in North America, Wishart seems to be under-appreciated everywhere -- except in San Jose.
Considering the Comox, B.C. native produced 37 points in 70 games with the Cougars to go along with a plus-12 rating, you would think Wishart could garner more attention. Especially since he logs heavy minutes in all situations and only had 68 penalty minutes, which showed his level of discipline.
With the NHL draft out of the way, Wishart is happy he no longer has to be concerned about who is watching him every game, just go out, and take care of business.
"Now that the draft is over and I am with San Jose, it is easier since I only have to impress one organization instead of 30, but the work has only just begun," Wishart said.
Although Wishart has enjoyed his time in Prince George, the differences in climate during the winter months in San Jose will be much easier to handle, he laughed.
"I am going to enjoy the hot weather down there in San Jose and it should be a little warmer than Prince George in the winter," he said.
In San Jose, the Sharks have a collection of WHL defenseman currently on the roster in Scott Hannan, Kyle McLaren, Josh Gorges, Scott Ferguson, and now, Wishart. This fact did not get past Wishart, as he was well aware of the Sharks' roster.
"I think San Jose may like the WHL defenseman because that league is a tougher defensive league that is similar to a professional tempo and schedule," he said. "We have some really talented defenseman in the WHL and I think that played apart in them choosing me."
Not entirely correct, say the Ducks.
"No, they can come from anywhere," Sharks Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Burke said. "It may be a little better for (the) bigger and thicker type of defenseman."
That certainly makes sense in Wishart's case, as well as in the cases of McLaren and Hannan -- who tip the scale at 225 and 220 pounds, respectively.
After meeting with the Sharks staff at the fitness combine and the NHL Draft, Wishart said he has a purpose and that a plan will be set in motion.
"I spoke to them once at the combine and things went well and I have met everyone so I am sure they will make a plan for to move forward and I hope I can make the team in a couple years," Wishart said.
That may be a little quicker than average in Burke's experience on watching how long a defenseman from WHL takes to develop into an NHL defenseman.
"Usually four years from the time he is drafted is about average" Burke said.
Wishart, a highly intuitive defenseman, is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses and knows what to draw upon when times are tough.
"I see myself as a two-way defenseman who sees the ice well and I think that will help me out a lot," Wishart said. "I want to work on my intensity from start to finish and foot speed is always important, especially now."
Wishart's own self-analysis was not far off the attributes that were the deciding factor in the Sharks' decision to select Wishart in the first round.
"Hockey sense, range, reach and blend of defense and offense," Burke said, citing the attributes that led to the selection.
The next challenge for Wishart is to attempt to make the roster of Team Canada's World Junior squad and Burke thinks has a legitimate chance of doing just that. Wishart was at Team Canada's recent evaluation camp.
The international scene is not new to Wishart. He has represented Canada in the past, winning gold with the Under-18 team at the World Junior Cup in August 2005. He suited up for Canada again at the Under-18 World Championship in April 2006, but with different results. Although Wishart was honored by being named team captain, Canada's fourth-place finish certainly did not sit well with him.
Overall, if this promising defenseman can continue the progression he showed from his rookie WHL season to last year, the Sharks may have something special.