Daniel Tkaczuk was drafted sixth overall by Calgary in 1997. (Photo by: Elsa Hasch /Allsport)
The roller-coaster draft year of on-ice scrutiny is finally over. You have prepared and worked throughout your life to get noticed by the NHL. At last, the moment is here, when you meet face-to-face with a team. The good thing is they are interested. What should you say? After all, just how much is there to know about you since you have spent most of your 18 years inside a rink, car, classroom and gym?
As a top-tier prospect, it is inevitable you will have to go through a series of pre-draft interviews. All interviews vary in styles and format. For a team, it gives insight into a prospect’s personality and how much room they have for growth. Will you fit in with a team’s “philosophy” or not?
In the Mind of a Player
Of course you are nervous. After all, this is a job interview. You’ve never had to do anything like this before. You want to leave a good impression.
Have a good, strong handshake. Look them in the eye and let them know what you are about as a player and a person. Prepare your answers, dress well and have good posture; be punctual, confident and professional. Be the type of player they want in their system.
In the Mind of the Team
Teams have spent countless hours and resources scouting and identifying a group of players who may become assets. They want to know what kind of person they are drafting and if there is more to them than the on-ice skill. A team may have difficulty deciding between two players with equal on-ice ability and the interview will help force the hand one way or the other. Do any red flags come up in meeting the prospect face-to-face? Does the prospect leave you with a good first impression and wanting more?
As a player, it is amazing just how much these teams can pick up on you. They know your strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. They have not only watched you play and practice, but they have talked to your teammates, coaches, agents and opponents. This is a great way to learn about what you have to do to get to the next level.
After going through a couple of these meetings, trends tend to start surfacing. If you hear “you have to drive to the net harder” or “work on your skating” three or four times, the message becomes pretty clear. Too many players fail to engage and find out just what the other side really thinks of their game.
The Varying Aspect
Thoughts on a player vary team to team. One may see you as a third-line pro in a defensive role. Others may see you worthy of a second-line, support-scoring role. Some may even see you playing another position entirely - just ask Brent Burns of the Minnesota Wild, who was drafted as a winger to be converted to a defenseman. That is the nature of the business.
Be Ready for Anything
Every team has its own style and means for finding out what it wants in an interview. During my time through this unique process, here are some questions I faced and some of what I went through:
• The Group Interview - Makes you respond to questions with some of your opponents/peers there to assess your play.
• Wing Span Test - What does this have to do with being a playmaking center?
• The NHL Draft Questionnaire - Every prospect fills out a form giving little details of their history and playing style. Example: Who do you mold your play after? Teams use this as a resource to open up questions and dialogue. Sometimes they are just checking to see if your answer differs from what you have previously wrote.
• Can you change your game?
• Watch and breakdown what you see in a game tape they show of yourself. Walk them through your thought process.
• The X-ray Machine - Though I had never broken any major bones in the previous six years, one team felt the need to run a series of X-ray scans.
• Who was your worst teammate? (Do you really want to answer that?)
• Extra Physical Testing - Some teams have their own measures and standards for strength and conditioning.
• What would you be doing if you weren’t playing hockey?
• If you shoot 100 pucks during drills in practice, how many of them actually hit the net? (Is there really a right answer to this? We all know saying 100 is a flat-out lie.)
• The Reaction Question - Some teams like to throw reactionary questions out there to see what you do. Are you a virgin? Have you ever done drugs? What do you hate about the game? Why don’t you play more like ‘X’?
• The One-on-One - This meeting is over a casual coffee and is a little more intimate.
• Who do you hate playing against?
• The Board Room - Donald Trump-style firing squad, where questions come from all different angles and you have to defend your play and show them you are determined to make the jump to the pro game.
• Solving Puzzles and small IQ tests.
• What music do you listen to? What your favorite movie of all-time?
• The Party - One team was basically having a party for scouts and offered me a beer while I was fielding their questions.
• Personality Test - Taking the Myers-Briggs test to find out just exactly what you are about. Pretty scary how accurate the results are.
The draft is an exciting time. It is a whirlwind that goes by fast. It is another step in the right direction to reaching your ultimate goal of playing in the NHL. The interview is an opportunity for a player to let a team know they are professional and committed to winning. It may even improve your draft position. Be yourself, but be ready for anything that comes your way.
Daniel Tkaczuk was Calgary's first round pick in 1997 (sixth overall) and has been playing professionally in North America and Europe for the past 12 seasons. He is currently president of iHockeyTrainer.com, an online hockey school for skill development.