Many top NHL prospects most likely came away from last week's NHL scouting combine in Toronto feeling anxious and worried about how their performances affected their stock heading into June's draft. Connor Brickley, however, isn't stressing out.
While Brickley, a Everett, Mass., native and second cousin of NESN's Bruins color commentator and former NHL player Andy Brickley, is most definitely wondering where he will be picked in the draft and by whom, he is by no means worried or concerned about an experience that he described as "fun." For Brickley, the combine was just another step to accomplishing his dream of following in his father's footsteps and being drafted by an NHL team. He then hopes to follow his second cousin's footsteps by eventually playing in the NHL after a college hockey career that is set to begin in the fall of 2010 at the University of Vermont, where he is committed to play.
"I was just honored to be there and really excited," said the winger, who was ranked 58th on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's final rankings of North American skaters. "My dad, Craig, was drafted [207th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 1974] and of course Andy Brickley [was drafted with the final pick of the 1980 draft by the Philadelphia Flyers], and hockey is in my bloodlines. My uncle, Quinton, also played at UNH and [in] minor league hockey, too. So I've grown up around the game and it's always been my goal to play in the NHL."
Over the last year, the feisty and skilled forward has been doing a great job of making that goal a reality. Brickley decided to leave the Belmont Hill School last fall and head to the USHL, where he played with the Des Moines Buccaneers. He had a great season for the Bucs, netting 22 goals to go with 21 helpers, but it was on the international scene that the 18-year-old Brickley really caught the scouts' eyes.
Over the last calendar year, Brickley has represented his country an amazing four times. He played for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August, the World Junior A Challenge in November, the U.S. Under-18 team for the Six Nations Tournament in February and the World Under-18 Championships in Belarus this past April. Brickley scored one goal in five games at the World Junior A Challenge and then had two lamplighters and five helpers in 12 games at the World Under-18 Championships in April, helping USA win gold in both tournaments.
"I think playing in all those international tournaments definitely helped me as a player, and doing well definitely got me noticed more," said Brickley, who also caught the scouts' attention with a thunderous hit on Canadian defenseman Erik Gudbranson in the third game of the World Under-18 Championships. Gudbranson is expected to be drafted in the top five overall at the draft in June, and the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Brickley wasn't intimidated by Gudbranson or the hype surrounding him.
"I don't know, I guess that stuff or whomever you're playing, you can't really worry about who they are or how much hype they get … you just do your job," Brickley said. "I felt he was taking liberties out there. We were racing for the puck and he tried to come up on me as we battled for the puck and I guess I won the battle."
Brickley's family advisor, Jim Troy of MFiveSports, told NESN.com that the phones have been ringing off the hook since that hit on Gudbranson and Brickley's solid performance in Belarus.
"I'm telling you that so many scouts called me after that, saying he has 'game-changing' abilities," said Troy, who is based in Newton, Mass., and played for the New England Whalers in the WHA and numerous AHL teams. "They all love his physical edge, his skill and the fact that he is so versatile being able to play in so many positions, whether it be the PK, the third line and the top line. He's a very useful player for any coach."
Brickley won the interest of plenty of NHL clubs as he interviewed with 23 NHL general managers and their team brass at the combine last week, and according to Troy, there was a quite a buzz surrounding his client.
"I'm hearing that his stock is really rising and he could go higher than most expected," Troy said.
Interestingly enough, the team that Brickley grew up loving — the Boston Bruins — asked him the toughest and most interesting questions. One question in particular caught Brickley's attention, but he felt he handled it well. When asked, "If you made the roster next season, whose job would you take?", Brickley immediately gave a two-pronged answer with his idol, Bruins team president and NHL Hall of Famer Cam Neely, sitting across the table.
"I told them I would first take Steve Begin's and then, eventually with hard work, I'd take Milan Lucic's job," Brickley said. "I think they were a bit surprised at Lucic, but I didn't mean any disrespect. It was more because that's the type of player I try to be. I really respect the way Lucic plays and want to be that type of player in the NHL some day."
Brickley also held a spot in the top 10 in the bench press exercise in the first two days and then was in the top 15 in push-ups and anaerobic as well. But for him, the interviews were the most interesting and rewarding experiences.
"You can try and simulate the different physical exercises, but you really have no idea how the interviews will go, and I think I learned a lot from those," he said. "There were some really interesting questions and just to be able to talk to so many management types or even a guy like Cam Neely was an amazing experience."
Brickley is back in Des Moines, Iowa, now finishing up his school exams. He will then head home to Everett on June 10 before he and his family embark on what he hopes will be a dream-fulfilling experience in Los Angeles at the NHL draft.
"I'm just really excited and can't wait for the experience," Brickley said. "I've wanted this chance to play in the NHL since I was probably three years old, and now this moment, the draft, has come."