Wednesday, June 23, 2010

This is What They Dream About

It is only fitting that on the day that Michael Del Zotto becomes the first Ranger rookie since Henrik to be named to the NHL All-Rookie Team that we talk about the journey these young prospects take to make their dream of becoming NHL players. For Ranger fans what they see is the end of that journey as for many of these young men it is a very long path they must take.

Del Zotto at just 18 made the Rangers skipping several steps that most prospects wind up taking which makes him one of the lucky ones. More on Del Zotto later on because this is more about the journey they take.

Every year hundreds if not thousands start their year off dreaming about getting called to the podium at the NHL Entry Draft as a first round pick. At the end only 30 get to see that dream come true as they know that unless they royally mess up or something very tragic happens that they are going to get a 3 year entry level contract from the team that drafts them.

For the rest, they are either disappointed or just happy that they wound up getting drafted by any NHL team in any of the remaining 6 rounds. These teenagers trade their childhood for this chance to chase their dream as they do not get to live that "normal" teenage lifestyle.

If they wind up in the WHL, OHL, QMJHL or any other junior level league, they typically leave home at 16-17 and live either in dorms or with surrogate families known as billets. They have to go to school during the mornings, travel like minor leaguers on road trips and have to act and behave like adults.

It is not an easy life in many ways as you are trading away your childhood for this chance at being an NHL player. It is not like you get to do the things other kids get to do like just hanging out or even looking at your first love.

Everyone is watching your every move you make so you are always under a microscope which is a lot to ask a 16 year old boy to do. But they do it because of what is at stake for them; when you see someone like Kirill Kabanov just doing major damage to his draft status with all that has been happening with him it is sad to watch.

You look at players like a Luke Walker who was undrafted in 2009 and went though true hell to play his way onto Team USA. And you wonder why he is not hearing his name called as you have seen with your own eyes the damage that was  done to his face and how bad he wants it.

You look at a Nino Niederreiter who left Switzerland and joined the Portland Winterhawks to chase his dream. You watch a magical player who charms you with his charisma on and off the ice and you realize you have gotten to witness something special.

See the draft to me is more about a kid named Brad Ross also on the Winterhawks and how you know this is a kid who does all the dirty work so Niederreiter and their linemate Ryan Johansen can get all the glory. You love this kid because he has a smile on his face even though he might not get picked until the 3rd round or later.

How this skinny runt of a kid has the heart of a warrior going out there and taking a beating being a pest but getting the job done. I will not lie and say that when I hear his name called I will not cheer because he deserves it.

I will think about these kids getting on a bus and riding it for 20 hours to play a game, then getting back on the bus and riding 2-3 hours more to reach their next game. These kids when they make the WHL Eastern Conference swing will almost live on a bus for 10-14 days.

Just cause they are on the road does not get them off the hook for their school work because they still have to get it done. When you see Ethan Werek and Chris Kreider at the draft party; ask them to describe how they balance their academics with their hockey?

It is at times even more impressive than their hockey talent especially Werek who is attending Queens University while playing in the OHL. See for yourselves why it gets very hard not to root for these kids when you witness what they do in order to play hockey.

We have it so easy this weekend as we just have to watch everything unfold. Remember that when you see the names of these kids getting called.


Yes I am happy for Michael Del Zotto being named to the NHL All- Rookie Team but I will think even today that he should have spent the season in the OHL as crazy as it sounds to many of you. I can say it because I truly believe that had Del Zotto spent one more season in the OHL that he would have won the Calder next season.

I know people will look and say overall he had a good season but both he and Evgeny Grachev would have gotten to work on the bugs in their game away from the very high expectations of the Ranger fans and media.
Del Zotto alone needed more work on defense but an area that few take about dominance.

Del Zotto has in many ways Brian Leetch like skills to turn a game around with just one rush. He has it in him but the NHL is not going to give him the place to work on that skill which he could have in London.

It just might be the difference between Del Zotto being a good defenseman and a great one. 

Friday night join us all live at the Blueshirt Bulletin for a chat as the draft unfolds. Here is your chance to ask questions as things are happening so come on down to

(Del Zotto courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

What you folks never get to see is the behind the scenes stuff of a 18 year old Brandon Dubinsky suffering his first knee injury and the look on his face when he is facing the unknown. Or Michael Sauer who would come visit with me post game and would first ride a stationary bike then bury his body in ice while talking to you as what he is going through is no big deal.

1 comment:

atlwirelesstr said...

I recently read in the Blueshirt Bulletin that Nigel Williams the defenseman that was acquired last summer from Colorado was signed thru next year but will not be back. I was wondering if you heard anything to this. He seemed to be a decent prospect since he was a projected late first rounder in his draft year not to mention his 6'4" frame, shot and skating ability. Your insight is always appreciated.