Skip to main content

Free-spirit Karl Alzner keeps his fingers crossed for NHL draft

But Karl Alzner opted for an ensemble of a skinny tie, no belt and ankle socks complete with a voluminous free-form hairstyle. "I read in GQ it was the thing for spring," the Calgary Hitmen defenceman said.

Even if Alzner wasn't one of the top-rated defenceman heading into this week's NHL draft in Columbus, Ohio, walking through the door in that get-up would have been enough for general managers and scouts to sit up and take notice.

"They laughed, that was my goal and I achieved it," Alzner said. "I just wanted to relax. I didn't want to be nervous.

"I wanted them to see my true colours, exactly how I am as a person. I like to goof around a bit. When I have to be serious I am, but away from rink, I'm a guy that just likes to have fun."

Alzner, from Burnaby, B.C., is ranked No. 5 among North American skaters by Central Scouting and No. 6 by the International Scouting Service that combines both Europeans and North Americans in its list.

It's a race between Alzner and Keaton Ellerby of the Kamloops Blazers as to which one will be the first defenceman taken in the 2007 draft.

Ellerby is rated No. 4 by Central Scouting, but No. 9 by ISS.

Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington have the first five picks respectively.

Alzner has a refreshing lack of self-consciousness and heart-on-his sleeve demeanour that makes for fun conversation.

NHL prospects tend to be cautious when talking about the draft, giving safe and bland opinions so they don't turn a team off.

Alzner gives his honest opinion about the team that drafts him, which will likely happen in the first round Friday.

"The only thing that matters to me is going to a team that gives me an opportunity to play," he declared. "I'd rather go to a team that was the worst team in the league and play the whole season than go to a team that goes really far in playoffs and not get a chance to play."

On this particular day, Alzner is tired from helping his girlfriend move to a new house. But his curiosity over which NHL team will direct his hockey future has kept his enthusiasm high for the draft.

"It's something I wish for every time I see 11:11 on the clock, I wish to be drafted and play in the NHL," he said."When it's four ones on the clock I always make a wish. I've heard it's good luck."

Lest you start thinking Alzner is an oddball, it is his smart and sensible head that NHL scouts are in love with.

The six-foot-two, 210-pounder is noted for his poise with the puck, his savvy positioning and his read of the play.

Combine that with a powerful stride and a big, muscular frame that can gain the puck in the corners and along the boards and you're looking at a potential top-two defenceman on any NHL club.

"He has a real presence on the ice," the ISS says. "Some other D-men on Calgary have impressed as well and some of their good play is directly related to Alzner. He might make some of those other D-men better. That's the mark of a good player."

Alzner was the only 18-year-old defenceman among the 19-year-olds on the Canadian team that won gold at the world junior hockey championship in January.

He won his spot on the team and helped his draft stock during the tournament by making the right play under pressure and playing mistake-free hockey.

Alzner would like to inject more offence into his game, but he didn't get much of an opportunity to develop that this past season averaging 35 minutes of ice time per game.

"He's got to conserve some energy and I think the games in which he was fresh and was able to jump into the play he was real good," Hitmen head coach and GM Kelly Kisio said. "Those games show he can do that.

"We've just got to mind his ice time maybe a little better. Hopefully we're a little deeper on defence so he doesn't have to play so much. If we do that then I'll think you'll see some more offence come out of him."

Both Kisio and Alzner expect him to be back in a Hitmen uniform next season for another year of development. Few teenage defencemen can handle the jump to the NHL where the smallest mistake can lead to the puck in the net behind you.

Kisio thinks Alzner is mentally ready and skates well enough now to play in the NHL, but needs another year of gaining strength and physical maturity.

"Physically, these are big, big men that they're playing against and if they put themselves in the wrong situation, they can be really hurt," Kisio said.

Alzner's father Gunther is a warehouse manager for a shipping and receiving company. His mother Karen is a health records supervisor at the University of British Columbia.

"I get everything from her. She's friendly and loves to talk," Alzner said.

He said Los Angeles, Edmonton (No. 6), St. Louis (No. 9), Columbus (No. 7) and Toronto (No. 13) have spent the most time interviewing him, but he expects teams will call in him for another last-minute going-over before Friday.

"I guess they're going to try and make a game-time decision," he said. "(I'll) try to woo them and make them laugh. That was my whole goal going into the combine and for the most part it worked."


Minnesota Wild

Minnesota Wild Battle for Playoffs with a Cap-Strapped Future

The Minnesota Wild will have to deal with tight salary cap space this off-season. Are they good enough right now to capitalize on their competitive window?

Marie Hui, Vancouver Canucks

Growing the Game: Hockey Canada, Lunar New Year and PHF All-Stars

Ian Kennedy looks at Hockey Canada's continued search for a new CEO, the Vancouver Canucks celebrating the Lunar Year and the PHF All-Star Weekend preview.

Andrei Kuzmenko

Canucks Sign Andrei Kuzmenko to Two-Year Extension

The Vancouver Canucks announced they signed forward Andrei Kuzmenko to a two-year contract extension.