Sunday, November 23, 2008

Class of 2005

(Note: I know the 2005 draft had some phenomenal players. I'm only focusing on 3.)

A young man stands in front of a bathroom mirror in an Ottawa hotel room. He peers at himself as he smoothes his dark brown hair down, then tries to make the ends curl up. He does this repeatedly, talking to an unseen reporter as he does. He is already dressed; his lime green dress shirt looks freshly pressed; a green silk tie is knotted perfectly. He admits feeling nervous. He stops to pick up a can of hair spray, revealing blond streaks in the dark hair. He sprays about a third of the can on his hair, then tries valiantly to curl the ends up again.
In another room at the same hotel, two young men lounge. They are as relaxed as the first teen is keyed up. Both are dressed in shorts and tee-shirts. One lies on a bed, while the other pokes his head out from the bathroom, wielding a razor. They are arguing, good naturedly, about who makes a tidier roommate. The one with the razor makes a comment that sends his roommate off into a fit of hysterical laughter.
These three are among thousands who have waited their entire young lives for this day, and the moment that will either propel them on to the next phase of their quest for hockey greatness, or send them home to think hard about a future that doesn’t involve pro hockey. All three of the featured boys know they will go in the first round, but only one knows his exact fate.
Sidney Crosby has known for weeks, maybe years, that he will be the Number One pick this year. He’s definitely known for weeks where he’s going. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the lottery to pick first and they’ve made it clear that they fully intend to do what everyone expects, and make Sid the newest Penguin.
Sidney Crosby, Rimouski Oceanic

Crosby’s roommate, Jack Johnson, and Benoit Pouliot, the teen fussing with his hair, aren’t so sure where their futures lie. For them, everything is uncertain, even what order in which they’ll be drafted. The only thing that’s certain is that they have the talent to go in the Top 5.
But how did they get here?
This is where their stories take interesting turns.
Jack Johnson grew up in Detroit, a great place for any American kid wanting to play hockey to live. He already had the hockey genes; his father was a former NHL’er. If adding the legends of Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman or the Red Wings’ amazing history weren’t enough to motivate a young hockey player, then he should hang up his skates. Jack soaked it all in and it showed in the way he played. His education continued at the prestigious Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota, where he met Crosby, who would become his teammate and best friend. As (the team’s only) sophomores, the two helped the team win a national championship.
Jack Johnson, USA Hockey

Jack’s free time was spent taking part in hockey camps and further honing his skills with the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. Also during this time, he helped the U.S. Under-18 team win a silver medal at the 2004 World Championships. The hard charging defenseman compares his style to that of Scott Stevens or Scott Niedermayer. He comes to the draft with quite a reputation. Sports Illustrated calls him “one of the most well-rounded and revered American defensemen to come along in the past decade.” Pretty high praise, but where would this put him in the draft? A few hours would tell.
Benoit Pouliot’s path began at home, in St. Isidore, Ontario. He was introduced to the game by his dad Sylvain, who coached Benoit and his two brothers in hockey during the winters and baseball in the summers. By his own admission, Benoit grew into a tall, skinny kid. But his skill and the promise of talent yet to be revealed intrigued the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves enough to pick him in the 11th round of the OHL draft in 2002. He attended the Wolves’ training camp the first two summers after being drafted, but the team sent him home both times. The second time he came home, he received devastating news. His father’s leukemia, which had been in remission, was back. But Sylvain urged Benoit to keep pursuing his dream. Benoit played most of the 2003-2004 season with his brother’s team, the Hawkesbury Hawks of the CJHL. In February of 2004, the Sudbury Wolves called Benoit to join the team for a couple of games. Benoit remembers his father telling him to take advantage of the opportunity and show the team just what he could do. By this time, Sylvain was very sick and basically living out his last days at home, with family. Benoit played his first game with Sudbury on February 13, 2004. He took his father’s advice and gave it all he had. That night, Benoit scored his first goal in the OHL. He called his mom afterward, and asked her to share the news with his dad. His mother, Diane, shares what happened next.
Benoit Pouliot, Sudbury Wolves

“I told him about the goal and he looked at me and said, ‘I knew it.’ Those were the last words he spoke to me.”

Sylvain Pouliot died the next day.
Benoit channeled his energy into hockey. He gained weight and muscle. He played several more games with Sudbury in the 2004 season. He tore up the OHL the next year, leading the league in rookie scoring, helping the Wolves get to the playoffs and taking home the “Rookie of the Year” trophy. His play had improved so much in such a short time, his style drew comparisons to Vincent Lecavalier, and he entered the 2005 draft ranked Number 2 by the “International Scouting Services”, right behind Sidney Crosby.
Which brings us to July 30, 2005 and the NHL Entry Draft.

Sid went first, to the Pens. No surprise.
Bobby Ryan from the OHL (Owen Sound Attack) went Number 2, to Anaheim.
Sid’s roommate, Jack Johnson, went third, to the Carolina Hurricanes. He would later be traded to the L.A. Kings because he wanted to play college hockey for a couple of years before making the jump to the NHL. The ‘Canes wanted someone who could play immediately.

With the fourth pick, the Minnesota Wild chose Benoit Pouliot. And maybe his lime green shirt and green tie served as an omen. The colors perfectly complemented the red and green of the Wild sweater he pulled over his so carefully-coiffed head.
Talented goaltender Carey Price rounded out the Top 5, going to the Montreal Canadiens.

The requisite photo shoot followed the draft selection. Photographers snapped the players in a variety of poses.

Sidney Crosby and Jack Johnson fulfilled a promise they made to each other in high school- standing side by side dressed in their NHL best.

Benoit beamed, no longer seeming to mind that his carefully styled hair was mussed.

Their roads since that July day in 2005 have also taken different turns.

Sid joined the Penguins right away and has held his own, to say the least.

Jack spent two years playing NCAA hockey with the University of Michigan, before joining the L.A. Kings and making an immediate impact. He’s currently nursing a torn labrum and itching to get back on the ice.

Jack MF Johnson

Benoit spent the first two years after being drafted playing mainly for the Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros, although he made a number of appearances in the Wild lineup. He has been a solid part of the team since last season and faces a solid future with Minnesota.

Somewhere, his father Sylvain is smiling and saying, “I knew it.”


  1. Why do you always make me it su!

  2. Once again, a great post, Su.

    Jack Johnson is a real solid defenseman and with a few more years of experience under his belt, he'll be one of the premier shutdown blue liners in the game. Not to mention he has the best nickname in any sport, but I'll keep it PG-13 and ommit that from this comment haha.

    Pouliot is finally seeing substantial playing time with the Wild. He hasn't been in the lineup on an every game basis, but when he has been, he's made an impact. I've got him on one of my fantasy teams and he was a nice waiver wire pickup.

    And Crosby, is just, well, Crosby, what else can you say?

    It's great to see so much young talent around the league right now, the future of hockey is definitely looking bright and it's not just the marquee players like the Crosby's or Ovechjoke's or Malkin's that will carry the league into the future, but also the role playing type guys like Pouliot or Kennedy in Pittsburgh.

    Really interesting post here, nice job. Let's Go Pens!

  3. I hoped that comment about the nickname would get the wheels turning a little haha...

    Check this out, it's an interview with JJ from an LA Kings message board. He talks about the nickname about halfway through it

    School sucks this semester. Seems like everything is being packed into the last week of classes with finals week following right behind. I've got another week after Thanksgiving, then finals, then a much needed break!

  4. Hey, I've got a new radio show airing this afternoon at 4:00 PM called "The Boys of Winter: Pittsburgh Penguins Weekly"

    Check it out live if you're around, or listen in later via the link on my blog.

  5. Scratch that last comment, the show will air tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11:00 AMEST.

  6. Su,
    Just a reminder, my show airs this afternoon at 1:30 PM. Head over to my blog for the link.


  7. My name is Mike and I run Just curious if you would like to swap links.

    Let me know in a quick comment on my site or email me: nhlsnipers at gmail.

    If so, send me the link you want listed.