At each Stanley Cup Final since 1993, the NHL has brought a group of top prospects to a game. The prospects have gone to a skate, visited the locker rooms, met the players, and watched the action with their own eyes. It has given them a look at the end goal, up close and personal.
Not this year though.
The prospects couldn’t meet players who were once on the same tour, like Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin and Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, because the Cup Final is being played in a bubble without fans in the stands at Rogers Place in Edmonton due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Definitely a huge bummer,” said Quinton Byfield, a center from Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League and the No. 2-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.
[RELATED: Complete 2020 NHL Draft coverage]
Instead of speaking to reporters at the Cup Final as usual, the top prospects spoke to reporters via videoconference Thursday. But based on their interviews, for the most part you’d never know how badly their draft year has been disrupted. Polished, driven, they focused on hockey and the positive.
Their moment still will come. It will just come virtually Oct. 6-7 instead of in person at Bell Centre in Montreal, as it was scheduled to be June 26-27.
“It’s going to be unique,” said Cole Perfetti, a center from Saginaw of the OHL and the No. 5-ranked North American skater. “And even though it’s not the traditional way and the way I dreamed of it, it’s going to be great to be able to spend the day with my family and all my close friends that were there for me through all these years and supported me. So it’s going to be a fun night, and I’m really grateful for that.”
No, the prospects didn’t get to finish the 2019-20 season as usual. The long break from the intense competition of real games has been difficult. But multiple prospects said they have used the time to get bigger, stronger and faster by hitting the gym and ice.
Take Marco Rossi, a center from Ottawa of the OHL. He’s the No. 6-ranked North American skater, but he’s from Austria. He said he went home in mid-March and immediately started training with his personal coach.
“It’s going really good,” Rossi said. “We can see big improvements off the ice, on the ice. I’ve never felt that good on the ice. Especially my body. Like, I got so much better with my body. It was really good before, but now it’s even much better.”
No, the prospects didn’t get to go to the NHL Scouting Combine, which had been scheduled to be held in Buffalo from June 1-6. They didn’t get to go through testing and interviews. But they met with teams via videoconferences.
Take Perfetti. He said he had gone through almost 50 calls, meeting with more than 20 teams, many more than once. When he met with the Detroit Red Wings, he really didn’t get to see general manager Steve Yzerman, because Yzerman mostly had his camera off while someone else led the conversation. But that didn’t affect him.
“I was going to be myself and express who I am, whether he was asking the questions or just listening,” Perfetti said. “I hope I made a good impression. It was a good process doing these Zoom calls, and it was a lot of fun.”
No, the prospects didn’t get to hear their names called, pull on hats and jerseys, and walk across the stage before a crowd at Bell Centre. They didn’t get to go through the gauntlet of interviews and photographs and autographs.
The draft will not be what they imagined. That hurts.
“Obviously it’s been uncertain times, and it’s been such a fluid summer and things have been changing, and I’ve just kind of learned how to go with the flow and deal with adversity,” Perfetti said. “It’s tough to deal with when you kind of dream of having things the way [they are] normally.”
But the wait is almost over.
“Every player’s excited,” said Tim Stuetzle, a forward from Mannheim, Germany, and the No. 1-ranked European skater. “I’m going to watch the draft with my teammates and my family. I think my teammates were a big part of me last season, and they helped me a lot, so I think they need to be in there too.”
Stuetzle said they would watch the draft at a clubhouse. Perfetti said he would be with family and friends at a restaurant. Jack Quinn, a forward from Ottawa of the OHL and the No. 7-ranked North American skater, said he would be at his mom’s house. Alexis Lafreniere, a forward from Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the No. 1-ranked North American skater, said he would be home too.
“I’ll be with my family for sure and hopefully with some friends so we can enjoy the night and spend these moments with them,” Lafreniere said.
No matter what, they’ll remember them forever.