O’Neill Preps For Draft With Cautious Optimism

Notre Dame freshman defenseman Wes O’Neill has tried hard to keep in perspective this month’s NHL Entry Draft and his place in it. He’s excited, because it’s one step toward realizing a childhood dream. But he tempered that enthusiasm with the knowledge that it is, indeed, just one step.

“It will be an honor to be drafted, but it’s Hollywood for a day,” O’Neill says. “Growing up in Canada, it’s every kid’s dream to make it to the NHL, so it’s definitely awesome to be this close. But I understand how much work there is to come to make it that far. You see other guys who are trying to get there, and you realize how hard it is. You’re close, but you’re also far.”

O’Neill is one of three Notre Dame players ranked among the top 231 North American skaters and goaltenders. He is ranked 23rd among North Americans and fourth among collegiate players behind North Dakota forward Drew Stafford (seventh), Michigan State defenseman A.J. Thelen (11th) and Dartmouth defenseman Grant Lewis (21st).

A 6-foot-4, 215-pounder with a left-handed shot, O’Neill played in all 39 games for the Irish, collecting two goals and 10 assists. He was plus-7 on the year to rank fourth on the team and first among Notre Dame defensemen. He is an “opt-in” player for this year’s draft.

O’Neill said he talked often during the season and in the spring with Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin, a former NHLer, about how to prepare for the draft. He said Poulin told him to focus on being himself and be honest in dealings with officials from any team.

Poulin also reminded O’Neill that, while being drafted is an important step in a player’s career, his future will ultimately be determined by what he does on the ice in future seasons.

Though he admits he is getting more eager to get to Carolina with each passing day, O’Neill said the draft was never a distraction during the season. He said he doesn’t expect it to be a distraction next season, either.

“I was the second overall pick in the (2002) OHL Draft, so I have been in the spotlight before,” he said. “Besides, once the draft is over, that’s when the real work starts.”

(This article originally appeared in this month’s edition of USCHO Magazine.)