Family Affairs

If there’s one common theme that will run through the early rounds of this year’s NHL Entry Draft, it is family impact on the collegiate draftees.

In a year that could easily see a record number of collegiate first rounders, almost all of the top college picks are second generation hockey players. The talk of fathers and uncles, players past, was the dominating theme at Friday’s media luncheon in Nashville that featured the top 20 picks as designated by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service (CSS).

Leading the way for that conversation was North Dakota’s Zach Parise. Son of the legendary Minnesota North Star J.P. Parise, Zach has pretty much assured himself a first round spot in this year’s entry draft and could easily land in the top 10 overall.

Parise didn’t hold back when talking about his father, calling him his “single biggest influence” on his game.

“I think [having] the last name [Parise] is a big advantage,” said the younger Parise. “It’s always going to be an advantage and I really enjoy it.

“It may have opened a few doors for me along the way and it’s fun to always be compared to him.”

Parise, who scored 25 goals and 57 points this year for North Dakota, admitted that while playing Bantams, he began thinking that maybe he could follow in his father’s footsteps. The elder Parise played 14 seasons in the NHL, spending his best years with the North Stars as well as finding time with Boston and the New York Islanders.

Zach never saw his dad play but said he’s watched plenty a game of his role model on DVD.

“He was a good player,” said Parise. “He definitely got the job done.”

Parise could fall nicely into the 10th overall spot in Saturday’s draft — a slot occupied by the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs have made a pattern of looking to college talent in recent years, having picked up Massachusetts-Lowell’s Ron Hainsey and Michigan’s Mike Komisarek in the first round. Parise said that he’d be happy to wear the blue, blanc et rouge of the Canadiens.

“I don’t know what to expect when tomorrow comes,” said Parise, “but [Montreal] would be an awesome place to play.

“[My dad] is full French-Canadian, but I never picked up any of his French. Now I’m disappointed that I didn’t.”

Joining Parise as a famous-named first rounder is Ryan Suter, son of Bob Suter, a member of the 1980 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, and nephew of long-time Calgary Flame Gary Suter.

The younger Suter talked about his family ties in an opposite light of Parise, almost downplaying his father and uncle’s success.

“I never really thought much about the way [my father] played,” said Suter, whose father actually played some professional hockey in Nashville for the South Stars of the old Colonial Hockey League. “He says to not think about [him] but that it’s my time now.”

Suter went as far to admit that his father didn’t give him much advice heading into the draft, almost letting him experience everything on his own without the family name as influence.

“He doesn’t really talk about this stuff,” said Suter. “He’s more worried about going out after this and walking around town … really just enjoying the experience.”

These two are part of a larger group of collegians with paternal or family hockey influence. Minnesota rookie and top collegiate prospect Thomas Vanek’s father played professionally in Austria, while Michigan’s Jeff Tambellini is the son of NHL journeyman Steve Tambellini, who himself enjoyed a 10-year career at the game’s top level and is now Vancouver’s vice president of player personnel.

The irony of the matter is that most of these fathers and relatives took a different route to the NHL than their offspring. These men played back in the day when major junior was the fashionable and likely only way to get to the NHL.

Now, though, most of these sons and nephews heed some strong advice from their family: mix hockey with education, advice that speaks volumes about the value of NCAA hockey.

“I think a lot of these fathers want to see their sons get a good education along with playing hockey,” said one professional scout. “They realize that there’s a value to the college game these days and that it’s the best stepping stone to the NHL.”