Any elite-level hockey player spends his draft year wondering what will happen in June.
Hearing his name announced by a National Hockey League club, seeing it on the board beside the top prospects in his age group, and taking a definite step toward the lifelong goal of pro hockey is an experience never to be forgotten. During 2020, June is in the distant past, and players are still anticipating those experiences. The New York Rangers will finally make the first pick of 217 by the league’s 31 clubs on October 6th.
Many of the typical rituals won’t happen during a draft which will be held online due to COVID-19. Rather than traveling to Montreal, players will be watching their phones, computers, and televisions for the latest updates when picks are announced. That is, if they aren’t on the ice for practice ahead of a new season which will be only a month away.
During parts of the spring and summer, ice time for practice wasn’t available - to draft prospects or anyone else - while facilities closed for the global pandemic.
“The first month or so, everything was shut down so it was tough to find ways to get the best training,” notes forward Wyatt Schingoethe. “Luckily I had access to a gym and a trainer to send me workouts. Now I can go to a gym regularly and skate as well.”
In April, Schingoethe was ranked 91st by NHL Central Scouting among North American skaters eligible to be picked this year. He made a big jump to that position after being 132nd in the January midterms. Last season, he produced 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 47 Black Hawks games, finishing third in team scoring.
Meanwhile, Waterloo goalie Gabriel Carriere tied for second in the USHL with 21 victories. That helped him secure the 23rd spot in the draft rankings for North American goalies. Carriere says training space wasn’t any easier to find near where he lives in Ottawa.
“I’ve been working out at home for most of the summer since my gym shut down and only opened back up a couple weeks ago. I have also been able to get back on the ice with my goalie coach a couple times a week.”
Now Carriere is on campus at the University of Vermont. Ryder Rolston also has Division I college facilities at his disposal. Rolston scored 16 times and accumulated 33 total points during the Black Hawks’ pandemic-shortened season. He will go into next month’s draft ranked 102nd by NHLCS.
“Since May, I have been really focusing on getting stronger in the weight room. I have been lucky to have the luxury of easy access to a gym so I’ve been taking that really seriously.”
Rolston and many other 2020 draft hopefuls missed out on a chance to show their raw strength when the NHL’s June Combine was cancelled.
“I particularly was looking forward to the combine, because I feel that I would’ve been able to show my athletic ability off the ice, as well as meet with teams in person,” Rolston says.
Besides tests of strength and conditioning, the combine also serves as a chance for team executives to talk directly with the players they are considering. Technology has allowed those meetings to continue.
“Since March, it’s been all video calls with teams, which has been a great experience and a great opportunity to meet the teams, hear their feedback, and go through the interview process,” Schingoethe says.
Rolston adds, “Not having the combine, things were a little jumbled in terms of meeting with teams, but Zoom has been a good alternative.”
While occasional details about the draft have reached the players in other ways, for the most part they have been following along with the same news sources as everyone else.
“I get most of the updates from social media, or friends and family,” says Carriere.
One experience loosely related to the draft which is unlikely to be salvaged in 2020 is being called to an NHL team’s prospect camp in the days and weeks after being picked.
“For me, it is disappointing,” says Carriere. “I would’ve loved to participate in one of them, given the opportunity, because it would have been a good opportunity to meet some new people and make connections.”
While Rolston and Carriere are meeting new people at every turn during their first semesters at their respective colleges (Carriere preparing for his time with the Catamounts and Rolston at Notre Dame), Schingoethe could become the first Black Hawk to ever be drafted during a USHL training camp.
Wherever those players - and their families and friends (and Black Hawks fans) – are watching, they will have reason to be proud when the longest draft year ever finally comes to an end.
Black Hawks season ticket holders saw the original version of this article in the September edition of the Hawk Tawk Mag-E-Zine.