Getting selected in the first round of the National Hockey League Entry Draft comes with a lot of pressures.
Once a player walks on stage after his new boss has announced to the world the name of his first professional organization, he dons a brand new ball cap and hockey jersey featuring the new team’s logo and then gets inundated with media requests, interviews and appearances.
Expectations are immediately set for first round picks and usually they are lofty.
What frequently gets lost in all the hoopla is the development that these 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds still have to go through to reach their goal of playing in the National Hockey League.
Dylan Olsen was the Chicago Blackhawks first round choice (#28 overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and is going through that progression now.
“Coming off the draft and being at an all-time high because that is something you dream of as a kid,” said Olsen at the Blackhawks recent Prospect Camp. “You come in here and everything is new and everything’s exciting. You’re just a young kid playing against all these grown men and it’s such a faster game at a faster pace.”
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Olsen recently completed his first season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (NCAA). Prior to skating at UMD, Olsen spent two full seasons with the Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL).
Despite getting drafted by the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, a major junior league, Olsen elected to play in Camrose in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, a junior “A” league, so he could keep his NCAA eligibility.
During his freshman campaign he notched a goal and 10 assists from the blueline for the Bulldogs.
As a defenseman, though, his development can’t be judged by his offensive numbers. Before making the transition to the professional game, Olsen has had to evolve into the college game from the junior level.
“After my year in college I’ve developed a lot, I’ve gotten a lot bigger,” said Olsen. “My first year in college was unreal. One of the best years I’ve had so far. The jump from junior to college was a pretty big jump.
“The speed is a lot faster, the players are a lot bigger. You have a different mindset, totally focused on hockey and you have to take care of school. It helped me developed more into a pro hockey player so that’s why I’m here now to see what Chicago has to say.”
The scrutiny that a first-round will pick face is more than likely going to come from the fans before it will from the hockey operations side. Fans are always eager to see their team’s first round selections make an impact at the NHL level.
Olsen, however, is in a great situation with the Blackhawks, as the team already has several key pieces in place with its defensive core and are coming off of a Stanley Cup Championship.
Players selected later in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft are not typically expected to play in the NHL right away. Olsen knows the path he needs to take during his own development process and despite the desire to play in the NHL soon, knows there is still a lot of work to be done.
“You go in the first round and you still need a couple years to develop,” commented Olsen on most first round draft picks. “I consider myself one of those guys. I have a couple years here to develop.
“I spend my time in college at UMD to develop and become a bigger and better player, work on my skill and come back to Chicago in a couple years to see if I can play pro.”
After one season at UMD, Olsen became comfortable on the defensive side of the puck at the collegiate level, but would like to improve on his offense. At 6’ 2” and just 19 years, Olsen still has time to grow in stature as well, and the Blackhawks were already sold on his size when they drafted him last summer.
Big, physical defenseman can wear a team down and Olsen already has the make up of a backend player who can fit that mold, but would also like to get in the mix offensively.
“I’d like to improve more my offensive skill,” said Olsen. “I kind of shied away from that last season and I’d like to get back to that where I’m rushing the puck and making plays happen in the offensive zone.”
Considered a little thin on defensive prospects prior to the 2009-10 season, Olsen’s name is now on a list with Shawn Lalonde, Brian Connelly, Ryan Stanton, Ivan Vishnevskiy, and Simon Danis-Pepin as potential future Hawks d-men.
Chicago has Brian Campbell, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and John Scott all locked up for at least the next two seasons. And with Brent Seabrook and potentially Jordan Hendry and Jassen Cullimore still in the mix for 2010-11, the need for an NHL ready defenseman isn’t extremely high, leaving these young prospects some time to return depth to that position throughout the organization.
This month’s Prospect Camp marked the second straight summer that Olsen had an opportunity to skate in Chicago with fellow prospects and draft picks. As a wide-eyed rookie last summer, Olsen was better prepared for his 2010 experience at the camp.
“Coming into this year you know what to expect,” said Olsen. “The game is still the same pace, but it’s a lot better this year for me.
“You’ve been through it all already and you know what to expect. You come in here and have a different mentality. You have the mentality that you want to show them that you’ve developed more into a pro player and hopefully get a shot at playing pro soon.”
Defense or forward, the Blackhawks haven’t been biased the last couple of drafts in selecting size. Including Olsen, Chicago’s last three first round picks are all well over six-feet tall (Kyle Beach-6’ 3” and Kevin Hayes-6’ 2”). Chicago also picked up Kevin’s older brother Jimmy (6’ 5”) during last months draft in a trade and selected five skaters that stand over six-feet tall.
“You got the small guys running around they can dangle, they can move,” said Olsen. “Then you have the big guys here that like to throw the body around, but can also make plays and stuff happen. Seeing their first-round draft pick they took this year (Kevin Hayes), he’s a big kid, but he scored a pretty good goal today.”
Time will only tell where Dylan Olsen’s development will take him. As a first-round draft pick, rest assured that the Blackhawks will give him every opportunity to succeed.