Vancouver Canucks left winger Alexandre Burrows, left, tangles with Colorado Avalanche center Brad Richardson. (AP/David Zalubowski)
It definitely wasn't where Brad Richardson expected to hear his name called in 2003. He'd had some scoring success in the OHL with the Owen Sound Attack and there were plenty of people around him saying the he'd be an early-round pick.
Instead, he fell right off the radar and was selected 163rd overall by the Colorado Avalanche.
"I got drafted in the fifth round and wasn't very happy about it," he recalled Wednesday at Air Canada Centre before the Avs played the Toronto Maple Leafs. "That's the draft, though. You don't know.
"People tell you where they think you're going to go but you have to take that with a grain of salt."
It was a lesson he learned the hard way, but it didn't deter him. After being selected late, it took Richardson less than three years to prove to Colorado that it had found something good.
Just 21, the native of Belleville, Ont., has secured a spot with the NHL team.
At five-foot-11, he's a relatively small centre but he's shown the ability to score a few goals while helping out defensively. Through five games of the season, he was one of only three players on the Avalanche who had been on the ice for more goals for than against.
There are many players who play like Richardson who were selected ahead of him in 2003 and are nowhere near the NHL. Skilled centres like Corey Urquhart (taken 40th overall by Montreal) and Liam Lindstrom (selected 115th by Phoenix), for example, are currently with ECHL teams.
"That kind of shows that it doesn't matter where you get drafted, it's what you do after that really counts," said Richardson.
If only it were that simple. The year after the draft disappointment was actually the toughest of Richardson's career.
He suffered a serious shoulder injury early in the 2003-04 season, playing only 15 games with Owen Sound before having a surgery that left him on the sidelines.
"It was an entire year of my development pretty much gone," said Richardson.
He rebounded the next season by recording 41 goals and 56 assists in 68 games while skating alongside Bobby Ryan. His point total was third-best in the league and he was runner-up to Corey Perry for the OHL's outstanding player award.
Richardson credits Attack coach Mike Stothers for helping him come back so strongly from his injury.
"He worked me pretty hard every day," said Richardson. "We really worked at it together and he pushed me."
It might be the reason he's currently playing in the NHL.
Richardson started his first pro year with Lowell in the American Hockey League last season and was able to quickly adapt. He made his NHL debut with Colorado during a four-game stint last November before being recalled for good in January after Pierre Turgeon suffered a shoulder injury.
He had three goals and 13 points in 41 games during his first season in the league and started to feel like he belonged when he played in all nine playoff games for the Avs.
"It's actually really tough to adjust," he said of life in the NHL. "You can't help but be in awe when you first get here and look over and see Joe Sakic.
"But the veteran players were so good to me. They did everything they could to make me feel part of the team."
Richardson spent his off-season back in Belleville working out with current Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft and defenceman Shane O'Brien of the Anaheim Ducks.
He also played some golf, took a trip back to Owen Sound and spent a lot of time thinking about the upcoming season.
While a permanent place on the Avs roster was his to lose, Richardson has learned not to take things like that for granted.
"You don't come to camp expecting that spot to be there," he said. "You come, you work hard and you earn that spot."