TORONTO - Leafs legend Wendel Clark, the first overall pick in the 1985 entry draft, shares his insights about getting drafted and adjusting to life in the NHL.
For the lucky young player who gets drafted early by the Toronto Maple Leafs or another Canadian team, do not be intimidated by the attention that goes along with it.
Instead, you should embrace it.
In my opinion, I think there are great positives in being selected by a franchise located in a Canadian market. Especially Toronto.
Sure, being in the instant limelight that goes with wearing a Maple Leaf jersey is different than, say, being picked by a team in a non-traditional hockey market where you can walk down the street in relative anonymity.
But keep this in mind. In a place like Toronto, everyone loves the game. And that means something.
It might be tough at first if you hear the criticism for the first time. But remember that, even when times are tough for you on the ice, all those people watching you in the stands would change places with you in an instant. If you work hard, whether the goals are going in or not, they would rather be you.
We always tell the young players: ďNo matter what is written or said about you in the papers or the media, do not hide. Be up front about things.Ē Because in a market like this, you canít hide. And youíll earn more respect by facing up to whatever challenges there might be.
Only control the things you can control. Donít worry about the things you canít.
Iíve heard in the past how some people claim there is too much pressure put on a young prospect coming into a place like Toronto or other Canadian cities. I donít buy that. No one can put more pressure on a player than the player themselves.
In fact, I think it is easier for a recently-drafted kid than a veteran free agent to become accustomed to the fishbowl that is Toronto.
For guys younger than 25, especially those prospects picked in the draft, the spotlight of being a Leaf or Hab is all you know because it was thrown at you right away. For one of these kids, he is experiencing everything at once. At the same time, he doesnít know anything different.
Once training camp starts and you get through that into the regular season, seeing 25-30 reporters at practice is no big deal. Not here. Thatís because it happens every day. It means nothing.
In a place like Toronto, practices get critiqued. Thatís just the way it is. Compare that to, say, Detroit, where theyíve won a bunch of Cups in the past 15 years but practically no one is at their practices. Thatís the difference.
Unlike a Leaf pick, however, if youíve played your first five seasons in the NHL in Nashville, for example, then come to Toronto, you arenít really going to know what to expect. Thatís why the transition is different for veteran free agents than it is for prospects.
Look at a guy like Kris Versteeg. Even after he won a Cup with Chicago last year, I remember reading something about him saying how much he had to adapt when he came to Toronto because of all the attention. That just goes to show you.
Meanwhile, former Leaf first rounders like Luke Schenn and Nazem Kadri have learned that by going through it. Fans were chanting Lukeís name during one of his first exhibition games as a pro, then criticizing him by his second year. Itís all part of it.
Back in 1985, when I was drafted first overall by the Leafs, I was recognized a lot too. Part of that was going No. 1. But another factor was that the draft was held in Toronto. I think thatís when my relationship with the Toronto fans first started.
Things are so different now. For one, we didnít have anything like the organized scouting combine. We met with the teams. That was about it. And during those interviews, I donít think we were asked nearly as many weird questions as the kids are today. I donít think it matters anyway. I think most kids are smart enough to know that they should give the answer the team wants to hear, not the answer the player really wants to give. Give them what they want. Simpler is better.
As for the combine, the kids are all in great shape these days. I just think that teams are more interested in the big picture and what kind of personality a kid has, not how many pushups a kid can do.
Just because a kid can do 1,000 pushups a day doesnít make him a good hockey player.
In the end, draft day is one of the biggest days of your life. Embrace it.
And, if itís a Canadian team like the Leafs that calls out your name, do the same and enjoy the moment.
BRIEFLY: Iím honoured to be hosting the 2011 Wendel Clark Celebrity Classic on June 28 in partnership with ClubLink at Station Creek and a number of other southern Ontario courses. Proceeds will help support the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.