By Jason Menard
Columbus Ohio. Tonight and tomorrow, this is the place where dreams are made.
In less than a couple of hours, the first young man – maybe even London’s own Pat Kane – will stride to the podium and don the colours of the National Hockey League franchise that selected him. He will shake hands with the commissioner, embrace his new general manager, and flash a toothy grin – well, at least what teeth remain – to the assembled media masses and fans.
And then he may not don that jersey for years to come, if ever again.
So much fuss, so much hype for players who – in large part — won’t make a significant impact for their NHL clubs for at least three or four years down the road. And why? One word: hope.
The NHL entry draft is all about selling the promise of hope to thousands of fans throughout the planet. It is about catching a glimpse of the future and embracing the promise that’s represented by these talented youth. It’s a day where every pick is the right one and success is a foregone conclusion.
Tonight the first round of the draft takes place and shortly thereafter, from the comfort of their La-Z-Boys and barstools, instant armchair general managers will debate the merits of their club’s selections while denigrating the draft prowess of their competitors. People who have never seen these players lace up will suddenly be experts in the field of player projection and their opinion will carry more weight than that of the NHL scouts who toil night after night in cramped press boxes in arenas from Chibougamou to the Czech Republic.
And, in all honesty, it’s a wonderful thing to behold.
Only one other day carries as much weight – and suffers from as much instant analysis – as the NHL entry draft and that’s trade deadline day. And in both cases the catalyst for the excitement remains the same – hope.
In the end, only one team skates away with the Stanley Cup. And by late season, the field of legitimate contenders has been winnowed to just a handful of clubs. So only a few lucky fans get to embrace the idea that their club could end its season on a winning note.
But the future is a constantly changing landscape. Every draft choice, every free agent signing, every trade adds another brushstroke to the canvas. And although every work of art takes its time to come to completion, the hope is always there that those in trust of your favoured franchise will be painting a masterpiece.
Like buying a lottery ticket, the NHL entry draft enables fans to access a dream – one wherein their club becomes the only one to win its final game and hoist Lord Stanley’s grail high aloft.
The players, who in large part have toiled in relative obscurity, are suddenly thrust into the national spotlight. A seventh-round project selection is scrutinized by the masses and everyone dreams that their club has chosen the next Dominik Hasek, whose impact on the game has far outstretched his projected worth when 198 other players were selected before him in 1983.
Alas, for every late-round gem like Henrik Zetterberg and Luc Robitaille, there’s a Brian Lawton or – and what would a list of draft busts be without him? – Alexandre Daigle. At best, drafting is an inexact science. At worst, it’s a crapshoot. Scouting staffs do their best to assess players for talent, character, drive, and heart. However, there are so many other factors that go into successfully transitioning to the NHL – and if even one goes off the rails, your express ride to success can quickly be derailed.
Fans should enjoy this weekend’s festivities for what they are. Like a lottery ticket, it’s great to dream of the millions. But you’d also be pretty happy if you won $20 right? And if none of your numbers come up, you just shrug your shoulders and move on. After all, there’s always next year.
In the end, today’s a day for hope. This weekend, fans of all 30 franchises – even Leafs’ fans — can dream that they’re on the right path to the Stanley Cup.
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