For kids like John Tavares and Victor Hedman, it's not a question of if they'll be drafted, but how high they will rank. And while 211 players were selected in this year's NHL draft, more than a few of the prospects taken weren't sure if their name would be called at all.
Mike Cichy was one of those prospects. A skilled goal-scorer in the United States League, Cichy had already been passed over once before. During the 2007-08 campaign, he played for a poor Tri-City Storm team, where he put up 45 points in 59 games and registered a minus-16 rating. Things started out much the same last season, with a slight uptick in points, but the same dreadful plus-minus. Scouts were concerned with grit and defensive play.
But a mid-season trade to the powerhouse Indiana Ice gave Cichy a chance to soar and sure enough, he did. In 30 games with the Ice, he rang up 47 points (24 on the power play) and steadied himself by earning a plus-2 rating. He led the USHL in scoring during the playoffs with 25 points in 13 games as the Ice won the Clark Cup.
“My strengths are scoring and putting up points,” Cichy said. “But the thing I've been working on the most is my speed.”
Adding strength and muscle to his frame is also a goal before he heads off to the University of North Dakota this year.
“I've put on about 30 pounds in two years,” he noted. “I expect to be over 200 pounds by the time I get to North Dakota.”
But would all that be enough for an NHL team to spend a pick on? There are a lot of great players out there, after all. In Montreal on the second day of the draft, I texted Mike as the day progressed.
11:41 a.m. – Mike, what do you think of the draft so far?
- Honestly, I'm not watching it. Don't want to bite my fingernails.
Instead, Cichy and a buddy headed to the local lake back in Michigan, where a church outing offered both group prayer and the chance to go tubing. His family advisor, Eddie Ward, was cautiously optimistic after talking Cichy up to teams at the draft combine in Toronto, but nothing was guaranteed.
An hour later, Mike texted me for an update.
12:56 p.m. – What round are we in?
- Final round just began.
There were 30 picks left. A lot of the fans had already left the Bell Centre and even members of the media were trickling out. Being an undrafted college free agent wouldn't be the worst thing in the world – between Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson and Matt Gilroy, it's practically a trend, right? But with the 199th pick in the draft, the Montreal Canadiens called out what would be their second-last selection of 2009: from the Indiana Ice of the USHL, center Mike Cichy.
I hit the BlackBerry as soon as the name came on the board.
1:26 p.m. – You just got picked by the Habs, congratulations!
- Wow, ha ha, thank you! Shock for me right now, wasn't expecting it at all.
- You gonna call some people, celebrate?
- Ha ha, it's possible. I think I'm going to spend some time with my mom, she deserves it.
As it turns out, Cichy was just coming back from the buffet near the lake when I hit him with the news. Since then, he has heard from the Habs and what their plans are for him.
“They're really excited about me,” Cichy said. “They thought I was a steal in the seventh round, which is nice to hear.”
And for Cichy, the love is mutual.
“They're like the Yankees of the NHL,” he said of the organization.
So next week Cichy will join the legions of Canadiens prospects at a rookie camp in Montreal, where he'll get his first taste of life in one of the world's premiere hockey destinations. In preparation, Cichy and a friend have been training hard at a local rink.
“We've actually been bag-skating ourselves,” he said. “Put on some heavy music and go 'til you almost puke.”
For a kid who got a second chance at a draft dream, that sounds about right. In the meantime, Cichy does have a lot of messages to return.
“I think I have 25 missed calls on my phone from family and friends,” he said. “I've never had so many phone calls, never on a birthday, or anything.”
And it may just be the beginning.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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