TORONTO – Canada’s world junior summer camp is full of prized prospects drafted by NHL teams over the last two years.
And then there’s Zach Sawchenko.
Although the Moose Jaw Warriors netminder was asked to attend the NHL draft combine in June, he wasn’t selected in Buffalo later in the month. Because he was ranked sixth among North American goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting, Sawchenko was in the stands with his family expecting to hear his name called. Instead, they watched over two days as player after player heard their names.
“It sucked at the time, but now I’m starting to realize maybe it happened for a reason,” the six-foot-one, 179-pound goalie said. “Now it’s just a matter of going out there and proving people wrong.”
Despite the misery, Sawchenko has been working to put the draft debacle behind him.
Within an hour of the draft’s conclusion he was asked to attend the Nashville Predators development camp. Sawchenko flew to Tennessee the next day, while his parents went home to Calgary and shipped off his gear to Tennessee. He’s been invited back to the team’s prospects camp in September.
“The draft was tough on the ego a little bit,” Sawchenko said. “But the sun came up the next day and I was invited to Nashville.”
The invitation to Canada’s summer camp had already been secured. That is Sawchenko’s priority now - trying to land a spot on a team looking for redemption on home ice in December at the world junior championship.
Sawchenko is one of four goaltenders at the camp here which concludes with an intra-squad game Monday before exhibition games next week in Plymouth, Mich., against Finland, Sweden and the United States.
Joining Sawchenko on the Canadian summer camp roster are 2016 NHL draftees Carter Hart (Everett, WHL/Philadelphia, NHL), Connor Ingram (Kamloops, WHL/Tampa Bay, NHL) and Evan Cormier (Saginaw, OHL/New Jersey, NHL). They have the inside track for the two positions on the team when the roster is named in December.
“It’s always a great motivator in all sports when somebody doesn’t think you’re good enough,” said Tim Hunter, a Team Canada assistant and Sawchenko’s coach with WHL Moose Jaw. “But you want to battle back and show that you can win, you can compete or you’re capable. That’s the kind of guy Zach is. He’s competitive and he believes in himself.”
Sawchenko sported a .916 save percentage and 3.04 goals-against average in 51 games last season.
Team Canada goalie consultant Fred Brathwaite said he was “really surprised” an NHL team didn’t take a chance on selecting Sawchenko.
However, Brathwaite, too, wasn’t drafted and endured the frustration of attending the event. He went on to play 19 pro seasons in North America and Europe.
“I worked hard and got an opportunity and things worked out,” Brathwaite said. “If you think you can do it and you get a chance, you’ve got to make the best of it.
“Even him being at this camp shows a lot about him.”
After all, Sawchenko, who turns 19 in December, has experience with Hockey Canada playing on two different under-18 teams in 2014-15.
If he can add more experience in Toronto and Montreal in December and January, there’s little doubt NHL teams will keep his name in mind for next year’s draft.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play with Canada before,” Sawchenko said. “I’d to anything to have that feeling, playing on home soil for the world junior championship.”