When a man with more than 21 years of NHL front office experience has something to say, it’s probably a good idea to pay attention. That is exactly what the 42 players participating in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game did prior to hitting the ice for a quick practice session here in Buffalo.
On the eve of what has become the preeminent showcase event on the NHL scouting schedule, the early morning pep talk provided an extra shot of incentive for aspiring players looking to make a good impression on the NHL scouts in attendance at the First Niagara Center on Thursday night.
“He’s obviously been through a lot and he’s been in the business a long time, so whatever he has to say you listen to because he knows what he’s talking about,” said Jack Eichel, the player who has garnered the lion’s share of the attention here this week. “I was able to meet him afterward and talk to him a little bit. He’s a great guy and a great resource.”
Most of the players were selected to participate in tonight’s showcase based on their body of work over the past several years. With that in mind, Shero’s advice is to use tonight’s game as a steppingstone on the path to a long and illustrious NHL career.
“My recommendation is don’t treat this like just another exhibition game, but rather like a playoff game,” said Shero, who made his mark as an NHL general manager with the Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators and most recently with the Pittsburgh Penguins. “You are here to make an impression, one way or another.”
But with that said, Shero was quick to point out that one game will not make a break a career. It could, however, open a few eyes heading into next summer’s NHL Entry Draft in Sunrise, Florida.
“Hopefully you’ll have a great game tonight, but if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world,” said Shero. “The thing to keep in mind is that your body of work over the past several years is what matters.”
With the release of the NHL Central Scouting’s first list of players to watch, which will be followed by multiple mock drafts and scouting reports, Shero offered a simple piece of advice for these draft-eligible prospects and their parents.
“Do yourself a favor: don’t read it,” said Shero. “They are a compass but they don’t mean much. NHL teams invest millions of dollars in scouting every year. Just go out and control what you can control.”
It must seem like another lifetime ago when Shero was the 216th overall selection in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings. But while an NHL playing career wasn’t in the cards for the former St. Lawrence University forward, he has made his mark as an architect of several NHL teams, including a Penguins team that captured the 2009 Stanley Cup.
With the growth the American game, players are now coming from all over the United States. The one thing they have in common is that every player here this week owes much of their success to the grass-roots programs that helped shape their games. Most have participated in USA Hockey National Championships, Player Development Camps and even on Select Teams. And now that they are on the cusp of their dream of making it to the NHL, Shero cautioned them to never forget where they came from.
“Keep in mind that your are a USA Hockey player. They’ve given you an opportunity to get where you are today,” said Shero, who serves on the USA Hockey Advisory Committee with a number of other past or present NHL general managers.
“So when USA Hockey calls in the future, whether it’s for the Deutschland Cup, the World Championships or even the Olympics, I hope you will answer the call.”