If you've followed the SB Nation Mock Draft, you know that I was happy to select Notre Dame center Riley Sheahan with the 21st pick. On Friday night, the Red Wings did the same.
It was an odd draft from the onset: a lot of surprising picks, a lot of guys sliding way further down the list than many experts expected. The top two picks were by the book, Taylor Hall going to Edmonton and Tyler Seguin going to Boston (although there was talk that Edmonton was trying very hard to land the second pick as well as the top pick). After that, things got a little bit interesting.
Florida selected Erik Gudbranson third, which wasn't too much a stretch, followed by Ryan Johansen (Columbus, 4th), Olympic stud Nino Neiderreiter (Islanders, 5th), Brett Connolly (Steve Yzerman's first selection as Tampa Bay Lightning general manager, 6th), Jeffrey Skinner (Carolina, 7th), Alex Burmistrov (Atlanta, 8th), and Mikael Granlund (MInnesota, 9th).
The New York Rangers went way off the board, selecting Dylan McIlrath with the tenth pick, about ten spots higher than almost every speculative mock draft had him going. There was a lot of chatter that Dallas was high on Team USA goaltender Jack Campbell leading up to the 11th pick, and the Stars proved it when they selected him.
Cam Fowler, the expected third overall pick slid all the way down to Anaheim at #12. Speaking of the Ducks, did you know that Kings fans boo the everloving hell out of them? Poor Cam Fowler, sliding a bunch of picks and then listened as he's booed from his seat to the stage. You can see the complete list of first rounders on the Draft Tracker I kept up to the minute during the festivities.
As the surprises kept coming, it started to become very exciting to be a Red Wings fan. There were going to be some incredibly talented guys available at 21st overall -- the highest the Wings have selected, outside of the post-lockout draft, in nearly two decades. When Pittsburgh used their pick -- the one directly before the Wings -- on California native Beau Bennett, the Wings had their chioce of John McFarland, Jon Merrill, Mark Pysyk, Emerson Etem, Kiril Kabanov, Tyler Pitlick, Brock Nelson, or Riley Sheahan.
They chose Sheahan.
Following each pick, the players were made available to the media -- which, for the first time, including yours truly -- in a part of the underbelly of the Staples Center. There were booths set up and the players were brought out a few minutes after they made their rounds at their new team's draft table. As soon as I saw Sheahan was slated for Booth #1, I got up from the media table and made my way under the risers, expecting to kind of just shove my tape recorder into the scrum and get a soundbite or two.
Instead, I found a modest cast of characters awaiting the newest Red Wing, and I was able to get a spot directly in front of the table and microphone he'd soon be behind. When he emerged a few minutes later, we were introduced to the newest Red Wing. I was even able to ask him a handful of questions.
He seemed pretty nervous - and who could blame him? He was facing some men and women that will follow him from this moment all the way through college, presumably into the AHL, and eventually into the Big Leagues. His voice cracked a little bit when he spoke, but he answered each one of our questions directly, looking the question-asker in the eye, with as little rhetoric as imaginable, which was refreshing to listen to.
I asked him if the Wings were one of the teams that interviewed him (they were), and if they made it sound like they would expect him to play out his eligibility at Notre Dame -- as the Wings often do. Sheahan answered, "They told me there's not much pressure to play all four years, if I feel like I can make the jump. I'm going to take it game by game, day by day, and hopefully I'll be there in a few years."
He seemed genuinely thrilled to be joining "the best in the business" -- a phrase he used twice in our short meeting. "It's unbelievable. These guys are one of the best in the NHL and produce some of the greatest players -- Steve Yzerman, Pavel Datsyuk. I'm looking forward to the opportunity. I'm looking forward to developing my game and prove to be a good pick for the Wings."
"[The wait] was one of the most stressful things I've ever done, but it's nice to finally know where I'm going, and I can kind of get going from here. I felt like I blacked out walking down the stairs, and now I'm awake and everything's kind of happening all at once, but it's a lot of fun."
Reading the scouting reports, you'd see that Riley is a big, two-way player and had a run-in with the law earlier this year. I didn't get an ounce of immaturity from the man, and he was a really friendly guy. Very genuine, very honest answers, and a little bit of insight into what kind of brain he's got in there. When asked what he could bring to the Wings, he didn't hesitate for even half a second -- and rolled out an incredibly well-thought out and concise answer. "I'm a big player, I like to use my size to my advantage. I'm a pass-first, shoot-second kind of guy. I like to make my teammates better, I'm responsible in my own end, I like to be a part of the physical play. I'd like to think I'm a leader in the dressing room and have the respect of my teammates. Next year, I'm looking to improve my offensive game, and show it on the scoresheet more."
A few minutes after speaking with the draft pick, Jim Nill made his way over to the little half-wall separate the management teams from the surly masses of media folk. He told us that the Wings had "four or five guys" that they wanted at 21 and instead of traded the pick and moving down like last year, they wanted Sheahan.
Mark your calendars, Red Wings fans. Detroit must sign their first round draft pick by August 2013, assuming he stays in school.