When Jonathan Toews came to a fork in the road, he chose the perfect path.
That path has led the 18-year-old Winnipegger straight to the NHL and Saturday he'll find out exactly where he will begin his budding professional career.
Two years after a making a difficult decision to spurn the WHL's Tri-City Americans and instead aim for a U.S. college scholarship, Toews will take the next step on the road when his name is called by an NHL general manager in the first round of the 2006 Entry Draft at GM Place in Vancouver.
It's likely the University of North Dakota freshman will go either second to the Pittsburgh Penguins or third to the Chicago Blackhawks, but there's an outside chance he could go first overall to the St. Louis Blues.
"I don't want to predict anything because I could be sitting there longer than I expected to," Toews said yesterday at his home in St. Vital. "It would be pretty cool to be pretty high, but you see guys that don't get drafted very high go on to have good careers. I don't think you can dwell on that, we'll just see what happens."
What has happened to Toews during the past two seasons has been incredible to witness.
Among the items on his resume are a gold medal for Team Western and MVP honours at the 2004 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, a gold medal as captain of Canada's Under-18 Junior World Cup team in Slovakia/Czech Republic in the summer of 2005, a gold medal at the 2006 World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver and an appearance in the 2006 NCAA Frozen Four Championship with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux.
The foundation for the aforementioned success was established during two seasons at Shattuck-St. Mary's Academy in Faribault, Minn. Things might have turned out differently if Toews had followed his original path and joined the Americans, who selected him first overall in the 2003 WHL bantam draft, but we'll never know.
"My plan was to do what Sidney Crosby did, play a year at Shattuck and then go on to (major junior)," said Toews. "I thought I would develop and go to school but then I decided it wouldn't hurt for me to stay another year and play midget (at Shattuck). I started watching games at North Dakota and saw the other side. It opened my eyes a little bit."
Seeing Jonathan's decisions pay off for him is a great source of pride for his father Bryan.
"Coming into this, Jonathan's dream was to play in the Western Hockey League and he got introduced to another option," he said. "It was difficult for us because we didn't know all that much about the college route. As a family, we had faith it was going to be good but we had our doubts about how it was going to all unfold. It couldn't be a better story up to this point."
Being drafted on Saturday will lead the family to another important decision regarding the future.
Will Toews head back to UND for his sophomore season or will he turn pro and begin his NHL career?
"I don't think it's up to me," said Jonathan. "If I have the chance and the team thinks I'm ready and I think I'm ready, obviously I'm not one of those guys that's going to turn them down because it's my dream to play there someday.
"Until that time, I've got a great place to be at North Dakota. I improved so much this year compared to other years. If I spent another year there working on the little details, it could be even better and maybe I'm ready to go the year after that. Who knows?"
Check out Ken Wiebe's NHL Draft reports from Vancouver all weekend.