The NHL draft is this weekend, but for Tri-City Americans defenseman Justin Hamonic, it’s just business as usual.
He plans to work out and maybe get in a round of golf, but he won’t be sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring.
“It’s just a normal day,” said Hamonic, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba. “Hopefully I get a call (Saturday). It would be nice, but if not, it’s not the end of the world. It’s still an exciting day, either way.”
The first round of the 50th annual draft is today at Consol Energy Center in Pitts-burgh, with rounds 2-7 on Saturday. The Edmonton Oilers hold the first pick for the third consecutive year.
Hamonic, 18, was one of three Americans players listed in the Central Scouting’s final rankings, coming in at 140th among North American skaters. NHL teams use the rankings, among other factors, in making their draft-day decisions.
For Hamonic, it was quite an honor to be included on the list after not making the cut for the mid-season rankings.
“It was nice to get that recognition,” he said. “It’s good to know you did something right, and you’re not just another player. With defense, there is a lot more to learn.”
Also on the final list were Tri-City forward Malte Strömwall (162nd) and defenseman Michal Plutnar (182nd). Strömwall, from Sweden, was not on the mid-season list, but Czech Republic native Plutnar was, coming in at 84th.
“We talk to teams all year, but as they start to get their lists in order, things change,” Tri-City general manager Bob Tory said. “All three have the potential to play pro hockey. There are a lot of players in North America and Europe pursuing the same dream. The draft is important, but it isn’t everything.”
Hamonic said he filled out a questionnaire for the New York Islanders during the playoffs and talked to scouts during the season. None made any promises.
“If I get drafted, that’s awesome. If not, I keep working,” Hamonic said. “I look at Shinny (Brendan Shinnimin), he wasn’t taken in the (WHL) bantam draft or NHL, and look what happened (signed by the Phoenix Coyotes as a free agent). He’s a prime example of where hard work gets you.”
The Americans haven’t drawn a lot of interest from NHL teams at draft time over the last few years, despite winning four U.S. Division titles over the last five years, and playing in three Western Conference finals the last five years, winning in 2010.
Tri-City hasn’t had more than two players chosen in one draft since 2004. The Americans got shut out in 2006-07 and 2009.
Last year, defenseman Zach Yuen was the lone pick, going in the fourth round (119th overall) to the Winnipeg Jets.
“You always wish for the best for the kids,” Tory said. “So many thing can happen between the draft and the NHL. It’s not an exact science. They aren’t high profile first-round guys, but they work hard and are good kids. They still have a lot of work to do to get to the next level. They have to get better and do the things necessary to become an elite player.”
A rookie last season, Hamonic played just 39 regular-season games, contributing four assists, but when called upon in the playoffs to replace injured Drydn Dow, Hamonic flourished.
He skated in 15 playoffs games alongside Derek Ryckman, scoring his first WHL goal and finishing the postseason with a plus-2 rating.
“Derek has been in the league awhile and he knows the little things,” Hamonic said. “He taught me a lot and helped through the rough patches.”Strömwall played a regular shift all season, playing 64 games with 11 goals and 16 assists.
Plutnar, who excelled on the blue line paired with Sam Grist and later Mitch Topping, had four goals and nine assists as part of one of the stingiest defenses in the Western Hockey League.
“As a defensive group, including the goalies, we came together and played really well,” Hamonic said. “We had the best goals against in the league (2.63 per game) and that was nice. It shows what good chemistry we have.”