The first day of the draft is the one with all the fanfare. It’s televised nationally. Cameras are on all the potential picks; they smile and hug their families before walking up to the stage and getting a jersey; sometimes, with their name on it. Then they’re put through the ringer, marched around until they get the chance to celebrate with their families.
The second day of the draft has very little of that. It’s a brisk affair, where teams go through 180 picks in the same amount of time it took them to go through 30 in the first round the day before. A fair number of kids aren’t even in the building when their names are called.
For the ones that are, though, it’s special. The production values are almost non-existent, so the joyous cries of family and friends celebrating echo through the arena. They’re some of the best moments of the draft, a great payoff for waiting. (One of the best moments from this draft? When Austin Osmanski, from nearby East Aurora, was picked by his hometown Buffalo Sabres in the seventh round to the screams and cheers of the large contingent of family and friends around him.)
Three Flames picks were here on day two to celebrate: Adam Fox, Mitchell Mattson, and Eetu Tuulola. We caught up with each of them in the interview hall.
An American contingent
Fox was the Flames’ fourth pick of the draft, and the third of four Americans selected. Considering the success of USA Hockey throughout this draft – from the first overall pick onwards – Fox, who is from New York state, directly addressed how good both the development program and the USA U18 team are, and how much they benefited him.
“There’s a lot of great players to come through; it’s definitely a historic road,” Fox said. “I know the guys who have come through there. I think it was definitely a great experience there, kind of just making a name for yourself there and going there and developing under some great coaches, you get great resources there.”
Fox was the third highest scorer on the U18 team this year, behind only first round picks Clayton Keller and Kieffer Bellows.
A foreign city
But being from the eastern seaboard, Fox doesn’t have a ton of knowledge about Calgary, the city that drafted him. He’s heard nothing but great things, he said – but that’s (almost) about it.
“I was friendly with Tkachuk; he was at the program when we were there at the NTDP so I’m familiar with him,” Fox said. He also knows fellow American Johnny Gaudreau a bit, too, which certainly can’t hurt; the forward has been working towards his degree at Boston College this off-season. “Definitely looking forward to meeting some guys,” Fox added.
Once in a lifetime
As for actually being drafted? “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Fox said. “Words can’t really describe how I feel right now.”
A southern Canadian, of sorts
Mattson is from Minnesota – or, as he referred to it, “a southern Canadian state, because hockey is just as big of a deal.” So the pressures of a Canadian market shouldn’t be new to him – and learning about a whole other hockey hotbed is sure to be exciting.
“I’m interested to learn about the city and interested to learn about the organization,” Mattson said.
He’s never been to Calgary – in fact, the only word that comes to mind when he thinks about it is “Canada”. “But I’ve seen them on TV, I’ve seen lots of highlights, guys like Johnny Gaudreau, and you know, it’s exciting to think about. I’m very excited for this.”
It’s interesting that he mentioned Gaudreau – not just because he’s one of the Flames’ most skilled and recognizable players, but because he’s American. I asked Mattson about the prominence of American players both in this draft and for the Flames in particular, and he was excited about it. “It’s good to see kids from America starting to get taken a lot more,” Mattson said, noting the record set for U.S.-born players taken in the first round. “It’s good to see and it’s good to be a part of it.”
Learning to be a pro
Mattson is expecting to start playing for the University of North Dakota in the 2017-18 season; this upcoming season, he expects to go back to the Bloomington Thunder of the USHL. He’s only played 21 games with them thus far, scoring two goals, but it’s been a big transition for him.
“It’s different. It’s definitely bigger and faster. There’s older guys that you’re playing against and everybody there is so good it forces you to play your highest level,” Mattson said. But it doesn’t stop just on the ice: “It just teaches you to mature fast. You’re living on your own, and you’re away from your parents. You have to take care of your body to be at peak performance every weekend for every practice. So it’s taught me basically how to train like a pro and how to be a pro.”
A lot of work to do
How does Mattson describe himself? As a skilled power forward – who’s responsible, but still has a lot of work to do. “I need to put on some weight,” he said, and listed at 6’4 and 201 lbs., there isn’t a ton of room for argument there. “I describe myself as a skilled forward with the vision and good hockey IQ.”
Draft day was a bit of an adventure for him. “It was kind of a relief,” Mattson said of being drafted, “just sitting there all just, just kinda waiting, but I couldn’t be happier to be a member of the Calgary Flames organization.”
“Everything is possible in this life”
Tuulola came alone. The big Finnish forward came to the draft with nobody more than his agent, his family not with him to wait for his name to finally be called in the sixth round. To me, that instantly showed commitment: this is a kid who could very well end up coming over from Europe, maybe even sooner rather than later.
When asked where he was playing next year, Tuulola was direct, but open. “Probably in HBK,” he initially said, referring to his Finnish club that he’s signed with through 2017-18, according to Elite Prospects. “Or if I play good enough … maybe I can play in AHL. Maybe in NHL. Everything is possible in this life.”
Tuulola isn’t that familiar with Calgary – he hasn’t ever been – but he does know “it’s a good team, good organization. That’s all what I know in Calgary.”
A blunt assessment
Tuulola gave a very direct scouting report of himself. “I think I play power forward game,” he said. “I’m big and strong. I love scoring goals. I like to play physical. I’m strong. Go to corner battles, and front of net battles.” He hits all the things this edition of Flames management seems to love and has been looking for: a big, powerful, physical winger who isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas, the not-so-fun areas, in order to score.
So when he was asked to compare himself to an established pro? He gave a great answer.
“I think I play like Milan Lucic,” Tuulola said. “Big and strong guy who likes scoring goals and who like to play physical.”
So does he have a mean streak?
With a smile on his face, he responded, “Yeah, I think so.”
If he can make it to the NHL, Tuulola will fit right in.