Playing the waiting game

SCOTT UNGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

Sun Media -- Unlike recent NHL Entry Drafts when Manitobans were selected in the first few picks -- see Jonathan Toews last year and Cam Barker in 2004 -- the 2007 draft will have the local hopefuls hunkering down for a wait, possibly late into draft day on Saturday.

"It's more exciting than tough. I mean, you're at the NHL Draft," said Calgary Hitman prospect Alex Plante, who is the only Manitoban making the trek to Columbus for the draft tomorrow and Saturday.

He is ranked 72nd among North American skaters, which should have him selected somewhere in the middle rounds, but by which team remains a mystery.

"I don't have a clue," he said from Toronto yesterday when asked if he has a feeling of where he might go.

Plante's older brother Tyler was selected by the Florida Panthers in the 2005 draft, so the Brandonite sort of knows what to expect when he gets to Columbus.

"Everyone is just telling me to be patient," he said. "There's nothing that I can control. I just want to go to a team and prove myself there."

Closely following Plante in the rankings is Snowflake's Justin Falk. The member of the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs is ranked 74th among North American skaters and he has a feeling as to where he might end up on Saturday.

"When I was in Toronto for the draft combine, Minnesota and Calgary were talking to me," he said.

But he won't be paying too much attention when the draft begins with the first round tomorrow night.

"I've ruled out going in the first round," he figures, "but I am hoping to go somewhere between the second and fifth round.

RIGOROUS INTERVIEWS

"I'm going to spend the day on Saturday watching the draft on the NHL Network. I just want to share it with the people that have helped me get to where I am today."

Even though Falk hasn't gone through the rigorous course of interviews by NHL teams that some of the projected first round prospects have, he was still quizzed by NHL teams that scouted him in Spokane during the season.

"It's nerve-wracking when you're recognized by some of these big names," Falk said.

"I think the interviews played a huge part in my rating. I feel I did well and am a character person that these teams want."

Another Brandon product, Andrew Clark is three spots behind Falk in the rankings at 77th. Much like Plante, he's going into the draft blind as to which team might take him.

"I haven't talked to any teams, so I'm not too sure what to expect," he said. "I don't care one bit where I go."

The possible hidden gem among the Manitobans that could be selected this weekend is Winnipeg product Jason Gregoire. After playing for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's Winnipeg South Blues as a 16 year old in 2005-06, he left for the Lincoln Stars of the Tier 1 United States Hockey League last season. Despite missing a good portion of the season with an ankle injury, he scored 16 goals and added 20 assists in 32 games in Lincoln.

"I've talked to three teams," Gregoire said yesterday. "Obviously they aren't going to tell me if they are going to draft me or not, but I am hearing good things."

Those three teams include the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens.

"I think I offer teams as much as any other guy," he said.

Gregoire is heading back to Lincoln next season before joining the University of North Dakota for the 2008-09 season. He is widely viewed as one of the best college prospects in the 2008 class.

"I hope to be a top forward there (Lincoln) next season and then see where it takes me," he assessed, adding he's looking forward to a full season in a familiar place.

"I might be one healthy year away from hitting my stride."

Gregoire is ranked 145th among North American skaters, which puts him at the tail end of the draft. But, the point pace he set last season would have put him in the top 10 in scoring in the USHL, had he been healthy for the entire season. That might be enough for a team to go off the board and snag him earlier.


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