As they prepare for their trip to Chicago for the NHL Entry Draft, Steelheads right winger Owen Tippett and defenceman Nicolas Hague know this is an important moment for their hockey careers, but also know that events such as the NHL Combine and ultimately, the draft, are unique experiences that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“I knew the testing was going to be a challenge. I knew there would be a lot of interviews so just talking to [my teammates], they told me to be myself, enjoy it, take in the whole experience, you only get to do this kind of thing once,” Hague said. “I’ll never be able to go to another NHL combine so I was just enjoying the whole thing.”
From Kitchener, Ont., Hague improved significantly in his second year in the Ontario Hockey League. Tallying 18 goals, 28 assists and a plus-22 in 65 games this season, the 6’5” defenceman anchored the Steelheads’ blue-line throughout the season and into the playoffs.
A tough start to the season saw the Steelheads in last place in December, but Hague knew it wasn’t the time to panic. From January on, the team put together an impressive streak that carried them to the OHL Finals.
“Everyone set goals for ourselves to be that five to ten per cent better,” Hague recalled. “We really bared down on the little things and it helped turn our season around.”
The Steelheads as a team have come a long way together, and it’s the constant support of the players and staff that helped Tippett these past two seasons.
“They’ve helped me out a lot,” Tippett said. “Mikey (McLeod) went through [the draft], and Nic (Hague) is going through it this year too, so just having those guys in the room and getting their advice helped.”
A breakout year for the Peterborough, Ont. native saw Tippett develop into one of the league’s most dangerous snipers, noticed by NHL scouts as having one of the best shots in this year’s draft class. He recorded 44 goals and 31 assists for 75 points in 60 games, before adding another 19 points in the playoffs. But one thing he believes has gone under the radar is his vision.
“Having the shot I have, my vision is something that may slide a little lower, that some teams may not be able to see,” says Tippett, whose 31 assists ranked third on the Steelheads this season.
Tippett and Hague, who are ranked 7th and 20th respectively on the final NHL North American Draft rankings, are not alone on a very skilled team. With four of the six Steelheads players drafted in last year’s NHL Draft still on this year’s roster, the Steelheads aren’t lacking top NHL prospects. Shaw Boomhower, who one year ago was in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, rounds out the trio of Steelheads heading into the June 23rd draft, ranked 112th among North American Skaters.
Boomhower credits the Steelheads organization and his teammates for getting the opportunity to be a part of this year’s draft. After being passed on at the 2016 OHL PrioritySelection, the Belleville native joined the Steelheads after making the team through their rookie camp tryout. Knowing it was his draft year, the idea of being able to participate in the Draft didn’t cross his mind until later in the season.
“Being in the OJHL last year, being the player I am, I didn’t think of the [NHL] draft much,” Boomhower said. “But as I started hearing my name and seeing my name on the draft list, it really helped me play my hardest every game and I had something to look forward to.”
As they arrive into Chicago, the trio of Steelheads know that nothing is for certain at the NHL Entry Draft. All they know is that it’s going to be a special experience and one they will never forget.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. There are going to be some ups and downs, but it’s all learning experience” Tippett says. “No pressure, no expectations, just take it all in.”