The 2010 NHL draft was the beginning of a new chapter on and off the ice for me, as I was fortunate enough to be picked up by a great organization, the Buffalo Sabres. Life since this very special day has been different, in a good way to say the least.
Off the ice, being drafted instantly creates more responsibility: from your workout program, to taking care of yourself, to how you’re put in a leadership role, since everything you do is watched by younger kids, the media, your team and the NHL team you desire to play for one day. Being drafted into the NHL comes with the expectation you’ll handle everything on and off the ice with a sense of maturity and eventually develop into a professional hockey player.
Another key change since the draft concluded is the easing of the mental pressure created by the process. During your selection year, it’s hard to keep it off your mind, hard to not get caught up in the rankings – whether you agree or disagree with them – and hard to not wonder whether you’re going to be drafted at all.
This can have an incredible effect on a player in either a positive or negative way, but that’s all part of maturing into a better hockey player. Now that it’s over with, it’s a lot easier to focus on the important things and not get caught up in the distractions that can hurt a player’s performance.
As far as on-ice changes, they’re fairly relevant to those off the ice; you feel the responsibilities that come with being an NHL prospect. You have to take everything you do on the ice to another level to keep improving your game in hopes of playing in the NHL one day. How you use your extra time on the ice after practices, the level of your work ethic in practices and games and your dedication to the game are a few small elements that go a long way towards development. If you want to be signed and play in the NHL, you are required to have the dedication it takes to get to the next level.
I originally met with the Buffalo Sabres a couple weeks after the draft in Lewiston, N.Y., for the prospect camp. It was all pretty nerve-wracking at the beginning and when I learned Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis were going to be my roommates, I got the chills. To be sharing a room with the Calder Trophy winner and Ennis was just the cherry on top. When they arrived in the room, we talked for a while and I found them to be really nice and down-to-earth guys, which allowed me to get into my comfort zone a little more. We stayed there for a week and the next time I was with them was at training camp.
Training camp was a whole different level of excitement considering all the big-name guys were going to be there and that I’d be playing in games with and against them. It was surreal sitting in the dressing room at HSBC Arena with guys such as Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and, of course, Myers and Ennis. Even better was getting treated in the trainer’s room on the table next to Ryan Miller, who was getting a pretty nice massage I wouldn’t have minded, either.
My team for the camp consisted of players such as Roy, Vanek, Steve Montador, Mike Grier, Rob Niedermayer and Shaone Morrisonn; pretty surreal for me. I remember playing on a line with Niedermayer and we were chatting on the bench when I asked him how long he had been in the league for. The answer? As long as I’ve been alive! I’m sure Niedermayer was feeling pretty old at that point.
The experience of the camp was truly an eye-opener. You get to see for yourself how hard these guys work on and off the ice and it only motivates you to want to be in their shoes one day. It gave me a lot of confidence as a player and a person because a million other kids would love to be in the position I’m in. Aside from confidence and motivation, it gave me a much clearer perspective on what it takes to suit up for the Buffalo Sabres and that’s crucial to a player’s development.
I was training camp roommates with first-rounder Mark Pysyk and we stayed at a hotel in Buffalo. This arrangement was great because we already knew each other from Canada’s under-18 team. We get along really well, even though our music tastes don’t always go hand-in-hand. We still keep in contact and I also stay in touch with third-rounder Kevin Sundher, who plays for the Western League’s Chilliwack Bruins.
I talk to Myers every once in a while as well, since we became buddies through the camps we had together. I still see other Sabres prospects, Marcus Foligno of Sudbury and Steven Shipley of Niagara, a lot since we are in the same conference in the Ontario League. I also get along well and keep in touch with Zack Kassian of Windsor. I think it’s great all the prospects still talk amongst each other throughout the course of the season because we all share the same goal – to one day play for the Buffalo Sabres.
Upon returning me to Mississauga, the Sabres told me to just continue what I’m doing and work my hardest every day at the rink. Specifically, they want to see me become a big contributor for the Majors, which is what I want to do as well. The Sabres know my coach, Dave Cameron, and told me to keep doing what he is telling me because he is ultimately trying to prepare me for the NHL; clearly the Sabres have trust in him to help me to get to where I want to be.
With the combination of taking pride in my new responsibilities as a player and committing myself to doing the things required to get to the next level, the greatest change since the draft is giving myself a shot at realizing a dream.
Right winger Gregg Sutch is in his third year in the Ontario League. The 18-year-old native of Newmarket, Ont., was a fifth round pick of the Buffalo Sabres at the 2010 NHL draft. He will blog throughout the season for THN.com. Read Sutch’s other blogs HERE.