Seventh overall pick, Colin Wilson of the Nashville Predators greets new teammate and 18th overall pick, Chet Pickard. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
BY SABINA LAM
OTTAWA - The trade between the Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators midway through the first round of the NHL Entry Draft Friday night seemed simple at the time, but proved to be much more for the players subsequently involved.
With Ottawa wanting to move up from the 18th spot to get Erik Karlsson before Anaheim, who also coveted the Swedish defenseman, Nashville was a willing trade partner; confident they’d get their guy later on.
The trade set the stage for the two teams drafting two sets of best friends into their organizations.
Nashville did it in the first round with their two picks. Having already taken Colin Wilson seventh overall, they used the Sens’ pick to get Tri-City Americans goaltender Chet Pickard, making him the first goalie selected in the 2008 draft.
The Senators also pulled the trick, first taking Karlsson with Nashville’s pick, then choosing Andre Petersson 109th overall in the fourth round.
When Nashville GM David Poile announced the Preds were taking Pickard, Wilson was unable to contain his excitement and ran across the floor of Scotiabank Place to give Pickard a huge congratulatory hug.
“I don’t know what the people of Ottawa thought about it (the hug), being sentimental and all, but I couldn’t help it,” Wilson said afterwards. “I was so happy.”
Added Pickard: “It’s an unbelievable dream come true. We’ve talked about how cool it would be to be picked by the same team. Nashville is an unbelievable organization and I’m so proud to be a part of the Predators. The fact I have my best friend beside me is really exciting.”
Wilson, from Greenwich, Conn. – Pickard is from Moncton, N.B. - said the two have known each other since they were nine years old playing travel hockey and in summer leagues together while their families lived in Winnipeg.
“We have the same personality,” said Wilson. “We were practically attached to the hip when we were younger.”
The two separated at 14 after the same rep team cut them both. Wilson then moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., to play for the U.S. National Development Team and Pickard later made his way to Tri-City.
Jeff Kealty, an amateur scout for the Preds, said he was aware Wilson and Pickard were friends, but didn’t know to what degree. Regardless, he said the team focused on the players’ skills first and their friendship was a bonus.
Wilson currently plays for Boston University and was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year after scoring 35 points in 37 games. Pickard, who succeeded Carey Price in the Tri-City net, topped the WHL in wins (46) and won the Del Wilson Trophy as the league’s top goalie.
On the other end of the Nashville-Ottawa swap, when the Sens picked Petersson on Saturday, it was Karlsson making the call to Sweden to tell his former U-18 National Team roommate the good news.
“I’ve known him for five years,” said Karlsson. “He’s a good friend of mine. We speak on the phone nearly everyday. When I told him Ottawa picked him he was excited. It was unbelievable that we were picked by the same team.”
Being a first-rounder, Karlsson figures into the Senators’ plans in the near future. It will, however, be at least another year until he comes to the NHL. Karlsson has one more year left on his contract with Frolunda, whose junior team he led to a championship this season. Petersson, a scoring winger, is more of a long-term project.
The Preds’ Kealty said teams don’t draft guys based on who they’re friends with, but the unforeseen consequence could end up being a benefit to both players.
“When you’re 18 and going to your first camp, it’s nerve racking,” Kealty said. “If you have your best friend with you, who you’re already comfortable with and is also going through the same thing, it’ll ease some of the nerves and they’ll push each other to become better.”