If Joe Basaraba has his way, he’ll soon be headed to the land of sand, surf and sun.
The former Muskie was taken in the third round, 69th overall, by the Florida Panthers at the NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles over the weekend, hearing his name called on Saturday.
“It feels great,” enthused Basaraba, 18. “It’s been a dream of mine to play in the NHL all my life.
“Getting drafted here is a great opportunity for me to follow my dream.”
Basaraba spent last season with the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Sabres, a prep school that has groomed NHL stars Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Zach Parise. Basaraba finished tied for seventh in team scoring with 46 points, comprised of 24 goals and 22 assists.
After hearing 68 names called before his, Basaraba rejoiced when his was the next one mentioned.
“It was pretty unbelievable,” he recalled. “I went there with high hopes of being drafted.
“I was just sitting there waiting and then when I finally heard my name, being able to celebrate with my family was pretty special.
“Going on to meet the team was a lot of fun.”
While the historical success rate for third-round selections hasn’t been encouraging—only a handful of the 30-odd selections ever grace professional ice—stars have emerged from the third-round.
Some recent success stories include Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang (62nd overall in 2005), Detroit’s Johan Franzen (97th overall in 2004) and Columbus’ Steve Mason, taken in Basaraba’s identical 69th spot in 2006. Other past third-rounders include current Dallas Star Brad Richards (64th overall by Tampa Bay in 1998), Montreal’s Brian Gionta (82nd overall by New Jersey in 1998), Boston’s Zdeno Chara (56th overall by the New York Islanders in 1996) and perhaps one of the biggest steals in the history of the draft, Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom, who was taken 53rd overall in 1991.
Basaraba hopes to set himself up for a similar story as he progresses.
“I really had no idea where I’d be going. I know that I was ranked [54th among North American skaters] and whatnot,” admitted Basaraba. “I was just hoping to get drafted, hoping to get an opportunity to have a tryout with a team someday, and when Florida came around and called my name, I was just happy I was getting an opportunity.”
Basaraba added that Florida had been in contact with him prior to the draft, and snapped him up while he was still available.
“They interviewed me back in May, but I didn’t really have any idea of who [would take me] or when I’d be going.
“They said they liked my play and come this past weekend, they drafted me and said they were happy to have me.”
Basaraba has already familiarized himself with the Florida brass, spending time with head coach Peter DeBoer and general manager Dale Tallon, among others.
“They said they were happy to have me and I’m looking forward to meeting them more in the future,” he noted.
The Panthers aren’t in Basaraba’s immediate plans, as he is gearing up to attend University of Minnesota-Duluth in the fall.
At this point, Basaraba realizes that his getting drafted is based not only but skill, but potential as well, and there is still work to be done to reach professional-league readiness.
“I think it’s just up to me personally to get better and keep training, and my own hard work and whatever I do is going to reveal when I’m ready to play in the NHL with them,” said Basaraba.
“It’s all dependent on how I do in the next couple years at Duluth and how hard I work.”
Florida is a team in transition at this point, with new G.M. Tallon making some big changes since being named to the position on May 17.
Tallon has already made a pair of trades that should impact the roster next season, acquiring forwards Michael Grabner and Steve Bernier from Vancouver, as well as defenceman Dennis Wideman from Boston. On the way out were defenceman Keith Ballard and prospect Viktor Oreskovich to Vancouver and forwards Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell to Boston.
But Tallon, who helped lay the groundwork for Chicago’s Stanley Cup-winning team this year before being dismissed from the team last July, appears to again trying to use the draft to rebuild a fledgling franchise, which hasn’t qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2000.
That’s where Basaraba comes in, as he was already Florida’s seventh selection in the draft in the 69th slot.
“Florida’s going to be a great spot for me. They’re a real up-and-coming team. They’ve got a new G.M. there, and they’ve got a lot of draft picks there and I think in the near future they’re going to be a real high-end, contending team,” gushed Basaraba.
“I’m really excited to be there in the sunshine, and it’s going to be fun.”
Basaraba noted that he has never been to Miami before, but with the draft hosted in Los Angeles, he at least has one hot-spot crossed off of his list.
“Los Angeles is a pretty cool place. They put on a good show for the draft. They were really accommodating and it was a cool city,” he reasoned.
On the happy occasion Basaraba also remembered where he came from, thanking the town and the minor hockey association for playing an integral role in fostering his love of the game.
“It’s been great how supportive Fort Frances is to me, and how much they supported me all the way through, and now getting drafted, I just want to say thanks for everything. It’s much appreciated,” he lauded.
“I grew up in minor hockey here and it’s been all great experiences. I loved it.”