When can 20 minutes seem like a lifetime? When you’re Patrick Kane, the consensus No. 1 overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and you’re sitting in the stands of Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, waiting for your name to be called.
The process leading up to the NHL Draft is a tedious one – especially for potentially high picks – consisting of all the physical and mental poking and prodding that takes place during numerous testing sessions, media appearances and meetings with NHL team brass.
But the toughest part, according to Kane, was the 20 minutes between the official start of the draft and when Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon took the stage to announce the first selection.
“Leading up to the draft I was pretty anxious, but I was confident going in,” said Kane, who had nearly 100 friends and family supporting him in Columbus. “Those first 20 minutes were nerve-wracking, and I couldn’t wait for the picks to get under way. But once Chicago called my name, I took a big sigh of relief.”
U.S. National Under-18 Team member James vanRiemsdyk would share that feeling a few moments later when he heard his name called by the Philadelphia Flyers, turning a lifelong dream into a reality.
“I never thought I’d be in this position coming from a New Jersey high school. A couple of years ago I just wanted to play in college,” said vanRiemsdyk. “I’ve always wanted to play in the NHL, but I never thought it would be a reality.”
The selections of Kane and vanRiemsdyk marked the first time American-born players were chosen with the top two picks of the NHL Draft, while Kane’s selection, coupled with the St. Louis Blues’ choice of Erik Johnson last year, marked the first time American-born players have been chosen first overall in back-to-back years.
Those accomplishments, along with the continued success of American teams in international competition, have not gone unnoticed by NHL executives, including Don Waddell, the general manager of the Atlanta Thrashers.
“USA Hockey is doing a great job of exposing the best players to the best competition at an early age,” said Waddell, a long-time supporter of USA Hockey. “The National Team Development Program has been providing an avenue for the top young players to not only gain more exposure while developing their skills, but also to play against the best competition in the world.”
As top young American players, the NHL Draft wasn’t the first time Kane and vanRiemsdyk have crossed paths in their careers, and it probably won’t be the last. The pair has had much success on the international level, often as teammates.
Kane and vanRiemsdyk teamed up to win the gold medal with the U.S. National Under-18 Team at the 2006 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. As an encore, they once again found themselves on the same sheet of ice at the 2007 IIHF World Junior Championship in Sweden, where they helped Team USA earn the bronze medal.
While Kane and vanRiemsdyk are both successful and highly skilled young players – as evidenced with their selections atop the draft – at first glance, it would appear that they have very little else in common.
Kane, with his soft hands and ability to slither through traffic to find the perfect angle for a tape-to-tape pass or a well-placed shot, stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 160 pounds. VanRiemsdyk, on the other hand, carries 200 pounds on his wide, 6-foot-3 frame, which allows him to break to the outside, lower his shoulder and barrel toward the net.
The two are also on distinctly different career paths on their way to potential NHL stardom. Kane headed north from his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., to hone his skills with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, while vanRiemsdyk, a native of Middletown, N.J., will take the NCAA Div. I route next year at the University of New Hampshire.
But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the pair have more in common than meets the eye.
Both Kane and vanRiemsdyk are East Coast products who took the next step in their hockey careers at the NTDP in Ann Arbor, Mich. Both have also topped the U.S. National Under-18 Team’s scoring charts – with Kane tallying an NTDP record 102 points (52-50) in 2005-06 and vanRiemsdyk notching 78 points (38-40) to lead the squad in 2006-07.
Because they’ve spent so much time on the ice together, it was only natural that they would learn from one another. In part, vanRiemsdyk credits time spent with Kane as a factor in his development as a player.
“At the NTDP I was able to learn a lot from Pat Kane, especially the way he handles the puck. He can be so deceptive when he has control of it,” said vanRiemsdyk. “I’ve tried to incorporate little things he does with the puck into my game, but I still can’t quite play like he does. I think it’s helped me out in quite a few ways, like holding the puck a second longer to get the goalie to freeze.”
With the vision of the NHL on the horizon, both players know that regardless of how they get there, there is still work to be done before they slip on the jerseys of their new respective NHL clubs.
“The draft is just another chapter in the books,” said Kane. “Being a high draft pick gives you the chance to have many other opportunities. Now I have to have a good summer and get stronger, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to make the team.”
Californian’s Career In Full Blum
Aspiring young players from non-traditional hockey areas have yet another role model to emulate.
When the Nashville Predators announced their first selection (23rd overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Jonathon Blum became the first player born and raised in California to be chosen in the first round.
Growing up in Rancho Santa Margarita, Blum started by playing on roller skates at age 5 with his family and neighbors. One year later, a fateful trip to a friend’s birthday party at a local rink gave Blum all the encouragement he needed to switch to ice hockey.
Blum blossomed quickly as a player, skating with the California Wave before joining the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants, where’s he’s played the past two seasons.
Skating in two Memorial Cups with Vancouver put Blum in a good position when it came to this year’s NHL Draft. Tabbed as the 17th-ranked North American skater in the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, Blum knew he had a shot at “Hopefully it will bring more attention to the game down south, especially in California.” being selected in the first round.
“One of my agents came up to me and said, ‘Vancouver is looking good.’ But I told him not to count Nashville out,” said Blum. “I had a really good interview with them and they had great feedback for me.”
With Blum still on the board near the end of the first round, Nashville didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger for the puck-moving defenseman, which helped to signal yet another positive stride for hockey in non-traditional areas.
“Other players can look at me and realize they could be here in five or six years,” Blum said. “Hopefully it will bring more attention to the game down south, especially in California.