Drafting a risky business

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

Daniel Tkaczuk remembers it like it was yesterday.

How could he forget?

Hearing his name called. Hugging his parents. The chills he experienced as he walked to an NHL stage for the very first time.

"It was Hollywood for a day," said Tkaczuk's agent, Darren Ferris, who works for The Orr Group.

"Everything was perfect."

Some kids look at the NHL draft as a sign they've finally made it. But for a kid like Tkaczuk who's not a kid anymore, the draft ends up to be a constant reminder of a dream that got away.

Joe Thornton was the first pick in Pittsburgh nine drafts ago, followed not ironically by Patrick Marleau. Last night in Vancouver, the two San Jose stalwarts were up for major hockey awards.

And last night north of Toronto, Daniel Tkaczuk, the third-rated player in that 1997 entry draft, flicked on his television set, saw the faces he was once compared with, and must have wondered why not him.

"The whole thing has never made sense to me," Ferris said. "Bobby (Orr) and I were just talking about this just the other day. We can't believe he hasn't made it. We loved the guy, we saw the same things in him, we still do. I don't think we were wrong."

Tkaczuk was the sixth pick in the 1997 draft, chosen after Thornton, Marleau, Olli Jokkinen, Roberto Luongo and Eric Brewer.

He was a can't-miss kid who did.

He could score and lead and compete, that's what the scouts said, and when Calgary selected him in the first round he was thought to be a sure-thing for a team in desperate need of one.

Only it never happened.

Just like it won't for some whose well-dressed kids whose names will be called tomorrow evening in Vancouver. For some players, draft day becomes the career highlight.

Daniel Tkaczuk has played eight pro seasons for six different teams in four different countries and four different leagues. The Brampton youngster who once starred for the Toronto Red Wings has appeared in only 19 NHL games, all of them for Calgary, all of them six seasons ago.

"As scouts, sometimes we're mesmerized by skill," said Craig Button, the Maple Leafs pro scout who inherited Tkaczuk when he was general manager of the Flames and ended up trading him to St. Louis. "Sometimes, you have to see what's underneath.

"It takes a lot more than skill to be successful. You need determination, consistency, reliability. To me, the fire in Daniel didn't run real deep. He didn't have that burning desire to be a player. I don't know if he had a passion for hockey, I never saw it.

"I only had him for one year but I never sensed he loved the game."

Calgary traded Tkaczuk to the Blues. St. Louis shipped him to the American Hockey League. When his NHL contract expired, he played one season in Finland, the past two in Italy and he now hopes for another NHL opportunity.

"I don't think Craig Button ever liked him," Ferris said. "He wasn't his draft pick and wasn't his kind of player. After that, things kind of got off the tracks. Daniel went to St. Louis and they didn't think he was in good shape and he got labelled.

"I don't know if it was just bad timing or wrong place, wrong time, there has just been a lot of adversity. I know it has been tough on Daniel. Everybody faces adversity. It's how you deal with it that counts.

"I look at the new (NHL) game and I think it's made for Daniel. If someone would just give him the opportunity. I still have inquiries about him. Minnesota had some interest, but St. Louis refused to allow him to go. I don't think it's over for Daniel. I can't think that way."

With the sixth pick in the draft, you can come away with a Peter Forsberg, a Ryan Smyth, a Cory Stillman. But you can also end up with a Dave Archibald, a Steve Kelly, a Brian Finley.

"You don't expect to get a failure that early," Button said.

"You have to remember, the players who fail in the these spots are the best players where they come from. We're talking 50-goal scorers and 100-point guys. It's not like we're guessing. These are the best of the best. That's when you realize it takes more.

"And we're always looking for that more."


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