Getting drafted in the National Hockey League has always been a dream of Corbeil's Ben Gaudreau.
But due to COVID-19, the NHL draft experience will be very different. Instead of rubbing shoulders with NHL GMs and Scouts at an NHL arena, Gaudreau will be watching the NHL Draft virtually from his home, just like in 2019 when Gaudreau was selected seventh overall by the Sarnia Sting in the OHL Priority Selection in 2019.
"Obviously that is a bit disappointing," Gaudreau told BayToday in an interview from a hotel room in Toronto after an on-ice session Monday night.
"Obviously, it would be nice to be there but you get to go somewhere.
"However, at the end of the day, the experience will still be fun at home and it will be nice to be close to some friends after the draft on the weekend. I am looking forward to it and trying to just take it in and have a good time no matter where it is."
The former North Bay AAA Trappers goalie is ranked as the #2 North American Goalie available for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft which takes place Friday night with round one and rounds two to seven to take place on Saturday.
Ben Gaudreau hopes to be the first North Bay trained hockey player to be selected in the National Hockey League draft since Colton Point was taken in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars. Unlike Point, many believe Gaudreau will be selected in the second or third round Saturday.
"His style and composure in net remind me of Carey Price. … The team that gets this goaltender will be getting a guy that definitely has a chance to be a future NHL starting goalie," stated Mathieu Sheridan of The Hockey News.
"Fast on his feet and unafraid to stay at the top of his crease, Gaudreau employs a wide, low stance and stays upright to make quick, nimble adjustments and stay centred to shots," the EliteProspects 2021 NHL Draft Guide stated about the local product.
That's high praise for Gaudreau. While he was unable to take part in a regular hockey season in the OHL, the big netminder made the most of his experience this May as he led Canada's U18 team to gold at the IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championships.
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Gaudreau finished with a perfect 5 and 0 record with a 2.20 goals-against average and .919 save percentage at the tournament that took place in Texas. He was also named the tournament's top goaltender.
Scouts told Gaudreau they were thrilled to see him playing games for the first time since the Ontario Hockey League stopped play in March 2020.
"I was not sure what would happen with my draft status but then I was lucky to be able to play in the U18 and that was a huge thing for me this year," he said.
"It really helped my own ranking."
Gaudreau thanks his parents Charlotte and Rob for their commitment by bringing him to the arenas across the province and around the world in his minor hockey days. He also thanks goalie coaches Todd Robillard and Frankie Palazzeese for their efforts in developing him into the goalie he is today.
Gaudreau is hoping to follow in the footsteps of other professional North Bay goalies who are currently playing one step below the NHL in Colton Point and Kenny Appleby.
Gaudreau trains with Appleby in the off-season and has looked up to him as a mentor between the pipes.
"Kenny told me it does not matter where you go it is who really wants you that matters," said Gaudreau about Appleby who plays with the Islanders AHL affiliate team in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
"It doesn't matter if it is first round or seventh round or undrafted like Kenny."
Gaudreau may not be the only local player to be selected this weekend.
Connor Punnett, a Powassan native, is ranked 148th for North American Skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
The former 2019 first round OHL pick by Saginaw (19th overall), now plays for the Barrie Colts. The former AAA Trappers defender travelled to Sweden to play in 2020 for Kalmar HC before Christmas only to have his junior season there abruptly shut down due to COVID-19.