LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Kirill Kabanov shares one thing in common with all 210 players who have just become the property of NHL teams—it’s up to him to decide where he goes from here.
Once considered a potential top pick in this year’s draft class, the much-talked about Russian became the poster boy for players who slipped down the depth charts after a wacky opening night. He fell all the way to the third round before the New York Islanders selected him with the 65th pick on Saturday morning.
“I was just sitting and waiting to see who picks me,” said Kabanov. “I just want to show that I’m a first-round player. I’ll do my best to make the NHL as soon as I can. I didn’t feel disappointed when I was in the stands, I was waiting just for the team.
“I was really happy when I heard my name from the Islanders.”
Kabanov likened his situation to a plane that has gone through turbulence and said he’s hoping to restore some calm. In the past few months alone, he’s been sidelined with a wrist injury, walked away from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Moncton Wildcats during the playoffs, got sent home from Russia’s under-18 team and dropped by respected agent J.P Barry.
The 17-year-old forward acknowledged that he’s going to have to be more disciplined moving forward.
“I had a really bad season,” said Kabanov.
The pick might end up looking like a steal down the road. Ideally, that’s what every general manager is looking for on the second day of the draft and a few left the Staples Center feeling optimistic about their chances.
One of them was Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, who dealt a prospect to Chicago in order to move up and draft Portland Winter Hawks winger Bradley Ross at No. 43. The team’s scouting staff didn’t expect him to be available at that spot.
“There was some wonky picks in the first round last night, guys kind of went off the list a little bit,” said Burke. “It managed to drop him down to us.”
As usual, the atmosphere on the second day of the draft was completely different. The first 30 picks took roughly three hours to be made on Friday night and the final 180 didn’t take much longer than that on Saturday.
With the TV lights down and virtually no one in the building, the Florida Panthers grabbed a couple players early in the second round who had hoped to be selected Friday night—Sudbury Wolves winger John McFarland at No. 33 and Red Deer Rebels defenceman Alexander Petrovic at No. 36.
Both felt some relief after the long wait.
“It’s happened to a lot of people in the past,” said McFarland. “It’s disappointing, but at the same time today’s a new day. I’m part of the Florida Panthers now and I’m excited about it.”
Added Petrovic: “You’re a little mad—you’re competitive, right? You want to go in the first round. But you wake up the next morning, you’ve got a smile on your face and you know you’re going to get drafted today.”
There were very few general managers who were able to improve their team through trades. Despite the fact several high-profile players were available, managers were either unwilling or unable to put together offers to get something done.
It took some of the sizzle out of an event that traditionally features plenty of player movement.
“A lot of teams that wanted to be active didn’t have first-round picks to do it,” said Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero. “That’s the currency sometimes with some of these good players. It was difficult to make deals. I was trying to make draft pick deals to move up or down and I had no one—until I finally got into the seventh round and traded for a seventh next year.
“I got a phone call from a GM I’d been calling all day and he said ‘congratulations.'”
As a result, the focus of the NHL draft’s first foray into California ended up being on the kids. A number of the prospects made the trip so that they could meet their potential employers in person.
Many of the guys drafted in the lower rounds feel as though they have even more motivation after being passed over on Friday night.
Seattle Thunderbirds goaltender Calvin Pickard slipped to 49th before being chosen by the Colorado Avalanche. His brother Chet was drafted by Nashville a couple years ago and offered him some tips about how to handle the draft experience.
One of them was not to let anyone know exactly how he was feeling.
“You can’t show any emotions,” said Pickard. “It’s draft day, anything can happen. I thought I could have had a chance to slip into the first round and it didn’t happen. So I had to just get the suit back on and put on my face again today.”
Ottawa 67’s winger Dalton Smith was looking forward to a nap after being selected within 10 minutes of Saturday’s start. He went to Columbus with the 34th pick after a restless night.
“I was nervous,” said Smith. “I’m pretty tired right now, didn’t sleep much. It’s just a huge a relief to be drafted.”