There are rumblings throughout the Pacific Northwest—both north and south of the US-Canadian border—that an NHL Draft could be coming to the Emerald City in the coming years. As you may be aware, the 2019 version of that same event occurred over the weekend in the home of what will be Seattle’s closest rival, the Vancouver Canucks.
Strangely, despite being a lifelong hockey fan and somebody who has followed the game closely since childhood, the Draft has never been an event that I’ve attended. But with it being so close to Seattle this time around, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make the pilgrimage up to British Columbia. A hockey nerd’s haven, the 2019 NHL Draft didn’t disappoint.
For those not especially well versed on the format of the Draft, the entire first evening is filled by the opening round, 31 picks in all (32 once Seattle joins the league), spread out over the course of about three hours. This is the night when
the arena is packed and the anticipation is at its apex. Day two, on the other hand, is a lot more of a rapid-fire experience, with minimal attendance and significantly less fanfare. Instead of having the prospects get called up to the stage and then awaiting each selected player’s hug and kiss of his respective family, picks on the second day are announced by each team directly from their draft tables on the floor. That second day almost has the feel of a real-life fantasy draft, as in the same amount of time it takes for round one to finish on Friday, the NHL cranks through rounds two through seven on Saturday.
What I can tell fans is that my experience being allowed in media areas was probably quite different from what you would encounter, should you ever attend the event. But, even for a fan, what’s incredible about the Draft is that it may be the one annual hockey event that offers almost constant personal access to players, coaches, and management. Everywhere you look, there’s an important member of the hockey community making his or her way through the building on some sort of mission. The prospects themselves, who arrive looking nervous but dressed to the nines in hopes of getting picked by an NHL organization, sit in the stands near fans and can be seen wandering through the concourses throughout the event. Similarly, NHL coaches—Peter DeBoer and Mike Babcock for example—can literally be run into having a chat outside the restroom, something that occurred for me specifically.
At NHLtoSeattle, we’ve had the pleasure of getting inside on hockey events locally, but there was something a bit surreal about squeezing in next to many of the hockey world’s most respected media members to listen to NHL Seattle co-owner Jerry Bruckheimer and CEO Tod Leiweke preach the good word of the organization and its future. Looking around the media area at Rogers Arena was like seeing every person I look up to and respect in the sport congregating in one place.
When the event got under way on Friday evening, and Gary Bettman took the stage to his traditional chorus of boos from fans in attendance, it was remarkable to look around and soak in just how big of a spectacle this thing has become over the years. It had spotlights, hype videos, a packed arena, and everyone who is anyone in the hockey world in attendance, from Scotty Bowman and Steve Yzerman to Keeper of the Cup, Phil Pritchard, and a man who hoisted the Cup many times, Wayne Gretzky.
Some comical moments occurred throughout the night, as Canucks fans maintained their commitment to booing Bettman all the way through to his very last appearance on stage, when he announced that Buffalo had the final pick of the first night. Credit to Bettman, though, because he stuck in there and at times gave it right back to the fans, using the Sedin twins as a deflector initially that left the home crowd in a confused state somewhere between booing and cheering. When he no longer had the Sedins to hide behind, Bettman said lines like “I can keep it up if you can,” and when he thanked Vancouver ownership for hosting, he put a special emphasis on the words “passion” and “hospitality” just to demonstrate how much he… appreciated… the reception of the crowd.
It was also fascinating to see the reaction of the building to some of the more surprising picks of the night, notably the Red Wings’ selection of German defenseman Moritz Seider with the sixth overall pick, and Swede Philip Broberg at number eight overall by the Oilers. On the Seider pick, there was an audible gasp throughout Rogers Arena, and the Jumbotron even captured a somewhat shocked look on the face of Seider himself as he hugged his family and headed down to the Draft floor. When Broberg’s name was announced, three Oilers fans to the right of the media risers made a bit of a hubbub. Two of the three cheered and hugged to show their approval of the selection, while their buddy—also apparently an Oilers fan—sat with his hands on his head in devastation. Watching that little exchange between friends was a perfect microcosm of deep hockey fandom. One guy loves a draft pick, the other guy hates it, despite perhaps having never seen the guy play, because obviously those fans know way more than the NHL scouts who travel the world to watch these kids. It was perfect.
The Draft was an awe-inspiring experience on a lot of levels. I felt humbled to be surrounded by so many well-respected people in the hockey world in what seems to be the biggest annual gathering of such people.
If the NHL Draft lands in Seattle—as many think it will in the near future—don’t miss it.