OTTAWA – It’s only natural for hockey fans in search of hope to look to their team’s top draft choice with excitement.
Many NHL squads selected players this weekend that will become mainstays on their rosters down the road. However, it’s important to remember that the road is likely to be long and winding for most of the young men called to the stage at Scotiabank Place.
Very few will be ready to make an impact next season.
“That’s the thing about hockey – it’s really a four year process of development,” said Shane Malloy, who scouts junior players on a freelance basis. “It’s really good for the fans to understand that you have to be patient with these kids. It’s so difficult, especially for defencemen, to play at the pro level.
“Don’t expect everybody to be Sidney Crosbys and Dion Phaneufs. They call them phenoms for a reason.”
You can count on Steve Stamkos playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning next season after being selected first overall. He had 58 goals in 61 games with Sarnia this year and is expected to centre Tampa’s second line.
There’s likely to be a few others who make an NHL team after an impressive training camp in the fall. Malloy watches young prospects as much as he can and believes that defenceman Luke Schenn is the player beyond Stamkos most likely to play in the NHL next season.
Schenn was selected fifth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Malloy also counts on one surprise player moving up but doesn’t think there’ll be any more than three guys from this year’s draft playing in the big league next season.
“It’s a matter of tempo and speed,” he said. “Every league that you jump up to, the tempo and the speed and the talent level compresses. The faster you can process information, the quicker you can play as a pro.”
Three players made the full-time jump this season.
Patrick Kane, Sam Gagner and David Perron were all drafted last year and jumped straight to the NHL. Kyle Turris also played a couple games with Phoenix at the end of the season after leaving the University of Wisconsin.
All of the top players taken in Ottawa believe they’re ready to follow in those footsteps. Stamkos, Drew Doughty (No. 2 to Los Angeles), Zach Bogosian (No. 3 to Atlanta), Alex Pietrangelo (No. 4 to Louis) and Schenn each hope to play for their new team immediately.
“I’m not going to make any disappointments for the L.A. staff that picked me,” said Doughty. “I’m going to do everything I can to make that team next year.”
Scouts are happy to hear those kind of comments because they want to draft motivated players. It’s up to the NHL teams to temper expectations on the outside.
That’s particularly true in the case of Stamkos, who has been billed as a future NHL star.
He knows that he’ll have to grow into that type of player and believes the current situation in Tampa will help it happen.
“I think this is the perfect situation for me,” said Stamkos. “They have three bona fide stars in the National Hockey League in (Vincent) Lecavalier, (Martin) St. Louis and (Dan) Boyle.
“I think for me I’m not coming into a team that’s in a rebuilding stage. I think this team is ready to win a championship.”
Lecavalier, in particular, should be a valuable resource.
In addition to being one of the top players in the NHL, he’s a former No. 1 draft pick himself. Lecavalier was billed as the Michael Jordan of hockey after getting selected in 1998 but only had 28 points in his first NHL season.
It took nine years for him to crack the 100-point barrier. Stamkos plans to speak with Lecavalier about his experiences once he gets to Florida.
“I’m definitely not a shy guy,” said Stamkos. “I’m going to go up and ask him. I’m sure he’s got a lot of tips for me because he went through the same thing.
“It’s kind of a perfect place for me to go.”