July 17, 2013

My NHL Draft experience: Connecticut's John Hayden

Greenwich, Conn., native John Hayden provided the New England Hockey Journal with an inside look at one player’s journey from amateur to pro prospect and the process leading up to the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The power forward and Yale recruit was New England Hockey Journal’s third-ranked area native for this year’s draft class.

On the experience of draft weekend in Newark:

John Hayden: The draft is over and it still hasn’t quite hit me that I am now an NHL prospect after being selected by the Chicago Blackhawks. The whole weekend was amazing, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. I was born in Chicago, so to be picked by the Stanley Cup champions from that city and to have my family here to experience this is something I will never forget.

On the NHL Draft Combine and experiences leading up to June 30:

Hayden: The NHL Draft Combine was a great experience. It went really fast, so I just tried to stay in the moment and take it all in. Just being in that environment with so many other great players and good guys going through the same process was a lot of fun. I’m pretty happy with the way everything turned out. I ended up conducting interviews with 18 teams and it went well. I had a pretty good idea of what to expect and I think I was well-prepared both for the interviews and the physical testing.

I roomed with (U.S. U18 teammate) Steven Santini (who went to the New Jersey Devils with the 42nd overall pick in the second round), and it was great to share the experiences with a good friend. To have that kind of opportunity is something I won’t forget.

On the NHL draft experience overall:

Hayden: It’s so hard to put into words, but it’s an honor to be drafted by an NHL team like Chicago. Just going down to (New York and Newark) with my immediate family and being so close to home made it pretty worthwhile. I have to give full credit to my mom, who was really the driving force behind hockey, supporting me the whole way. My dad has also obviously been a huge source of support and inspiration. Having my older brother, who is my best friend, and my younger sister here at the draft made it all so special.

On how leaving home for the U.S. NTDP in Ann Arbor molded him as a NHL prospect:

Hayden: Everything we do there happens at a high level, from the competition to the practices to the off-ice conditioning work and film study. It’s unbelievable how fast the time has gone by. It seems like just yesterday that I was walking into Ann Arbor for my Under-17 year, and now it’s so close with the draft and then going to Yale. It’s exciting to think that after two years of working so hard this is the next step in the road (to becoming a professional hockey player).

On the disappointment of coming up short in the World Under-18 tourney and what he learned from it:

Hayden: Obviously, it was a tough feeling to not win gold for a fifth straight year, but the guys put in the effort and in the end it didn’t go our way. I think that even though losing the gold medal to Canada hurt, we’ll look back on it and be proud that we showed a lot of character and made it all the way to the championship game, but right now, it’s hard to get so close but come up short.

On thoughts going into the NHL draft:

Hayden: It’s an unknown. I just went into it with an open mind. I had some very good interviews during the process, and some real good talks with Chicago. It was great to watch the Blackhawks in the playoffs, and to see the kind of success they had in winning the Stanley Cup reminds you how much work it takes to reach the NHL and be a part of a championship team. I had a chance to go to Montreal for a team workout, too. Being around NHL teams gives you an idea of the professionalism and traditions they have. It’s just an exciting time overall to see it and be a part of it.

On what lies ahead:

Hayden: Now that the draft is over, I’m getting ready for next season. I spend my offseasons working out at Prentiss Hockey, and I’m excited about going to Yale. I’m eager to join the program and do what Coach (Keith) Allain (New Haven, Conn.) and the other coaches ask of me.

I’ll play any role they want me to, but just going to a championship program is a great opportunity. I can’t wait to get started.

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

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