All eyes on Pickard

KEN WIEBE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

Chet Pickard has no idea when he'll be called to the podium tonight at Scotiabank Place and for all intents and purposes, he doesn't really care.

At some point tonight, the 18-year-old Winnipegger is going to become a first round pick at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa.

And when the Tri-City Americans netminder pulls the jersey over his head, he'll be grinning from ear to ear.

"As you get closer and closer to the day, you get more excited," Pickard said before departing to Ottawa for several second interviews with NHL clubs. "It's something new to me and it's a pretty big deal. I'm going to have a smile on my face the whole time that I'm there."

There will be plenty of eyes focused on Pickard, since he's viewed as the consensus pick to be the first goaltender selected.

Pickard is coming off a tremendous season with the Americans and it doesn't hurt that he's often compared to the guy he replaced between the pipes in the Western Hockey League, Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.

"Anything can happen on draft day. I don't want to set any standards and be disappointed," said Pickard, who could be Canada's goalie at the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championship in Ottawa this winter. "At the start of this season, I couldn't have dreamed of being in the position I am now."

The only Manitoban who might have his name called before Pickard is Colin Wilson, who was born in Greenwich, Conn., when his father Carey was playing for the New York Rangers.

The younger Wilson, who played much of his minor hockey in Winnipeg, is coming off a solid season at Boston University and was one of the top players for the U.S. at the 2008 World Junior Hockey Championship.

Some pundits believe Wilson is one of the most NHL-ready forwards and he could be scooped up by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the seventh overall selection.

You can almost be certain he won't get past 10th overall, a pick currently held by the Vancouver Canucks, who are rumoured to be shopping the pick but could use a big-bodied centre with the skill and hockey sense Wilson possesses.

Another Manitoban who should be among the first round picks is Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Colby Robak.

The Gilbert Plains product is known as a great skater who makes a strong first pass.

"I'm already nervous and excited, the sleepless nights are already happening," Robak said after arriving in Ottawa. "I know I have no control of what does happen, so I'll just be happy with the results."

Robak has kept an eye on the mock drafts, but knows the moment of truth is just around the corner.

"It's not a for-sure thing, but hopefully my name gets called Friday," said Robak. "There's a chance I could go in the second and I won't be disappointed, but it would be a dream come true to go up on stage, with everyone back home watching and my family here with me."

One of the wild cards among Manitobans heading into the draft is Shattuck-St. Mary's forward David Toews.

Toews, whose brother Jonathan recently completed an outstanding rookie campaign with the Chicago Blackhawks, was rated 40th in The Hockey News draft issue, but didn't crack the TSN Top-60

Toews, who has committed to playing for the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux this fall, is expected to be chosen on the second day of the draft, but nobody knows how high he might actually go.

Perhaps the Blackhawks, an organization with an abundance of young talent, might take a flier on Toews and let him spend a few seasons developing in the college ranks.

Calgary Hitmen defenceman Michael Stone, Americans' defencemen Eric Mestery and Tyler Schmidt and Prince George Cougars forward Dale Hunt are also expected to be chosen on the second day of the draft.


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