by Islander Expert,
When Mike Milbury and Sanjay Kumar stepped up to the podium in Calgary on June 23rd and proudly made history by drafting 18-year-old Rick DiPietro first overall in the 2000 NHL Draft, every Islander fan had to wonder with astonishment if "Mad" Mike Milbury had indeed gone insane. Drafting an 18-year-old kid first overall hardly seems to help stabilize a franchise that has been in disarray for the last 5 years.
According to NHL Analyst E.J. Hradeck from ESPN, "GM Mike Milbury is apparently convinced that the 18-year-old DiPietro, a cocky kid with a great glove and marvelous stickhandling abilities, can be his starting goalie next season" (ESPN Magazine, July 2000). So, is Dipietro ready to be the #1 goaltender for the New York Islanders this season? I will put my neck on the line with Mike and say absolutely.
A lot of pressure - on and off the ice - comes with being the first pick in the draft. The lofty expectations that come with being drafted 1st overall are enormous. While some can deal with the pressure and perform up to those high standards, often others cannot.
Rick's likeable personality off the ice and willingness to be a leader in the community has shown Islander fans he is ready to live up to those lofty standards and handle the responsibility of being a #1 pick. As Doug Wickenheiser once said in
The Sporting News,
"You're like the face on the dartboard everywhere you go. You can't get anyone to judge you on you." On Tuesday July 25th, when he inked his three-year deal with the Isles, Rick spent the majority of the day taping a segment for the ESPN show "Cool Shots", holding a clinic for 25 youth hockey goalies, and signing autographs for 2 hours. On a day that was centered on Rick and his contract signing, he was not concerned with just "getting the deal done" but instead took the time to reach out to the Islander fans and the Long Island community. I think the verdict is in on DiPietro. This kid has character.
It is quite refreshing to see a kid - let me remind you that he is only 18 - carry himself like a true professional off the ice. Gerry Hart, owner of the Rinx where the goaltending clinic was held, was truly impressed with Rick's attitude and positive demeanor. According to
"He had a great presence on the ice. It made me think back to when I was 18 and I am not sure I could handle myself as well as Rick did"
Bearing in mind Rick's already impressive accolades off the ice and in the community, let us not lose sight of the fact that he knows how to stop the puck. The scouting report on Rick is he recovers well after scrambling, is aggressive and feisty, and possesses a quick glove hand. His outstanding puck handling skills already have people drawing comparisons to Martin Brodeur. As a testament to his strong character and confidence in his abilities as a goaltender, in a recent interview with Larry Wigge of the
Dipietro explained that he did plan on scoring a goal in his NHL career, to which Wigge asked "But don't they pay you to stop the puck, too?" and Rick responded "And if I couldn't do that would I be standing here the No. 1 pick?"
I could list all of Rick's on the ice accomplishments but the bottom line is he thrives on pressure situations. An NCAA record seventy-seven saves in a four overtime game and MVP honors at the Beanpot Tournament in Boston are evidence of this kid's nerves of steel and ability to lift his game to another level.
says it best when he states "A lot of people say I walk the line of cockiness and arrogance because of the way I handle the puck and talk, but I like to think I have supreme confidence in my ability - and I think that's what you have to have to be good at my position". When Rick gets his first taste of NHL action and faces bigger, faster, and stronger players for the first time, he will definitely go through some growing pains. But based on his confident attitude as a netminder, we all have every reason to believe that DiPietro will take it all in stride and be an extremely successful goalie at the NHL level.
As an amazing complement to DiPietro, he has already drawn comparisons with Tom Barrasso of the Ottawa Senators. Barrasso made his debut in the NHL as an 18-year-old out of high school. Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres with the fifth overall pick in the 1983 NHL entry draft, Barrasso performed outstanding in the 1983-84 season. As an 18-year-old rookie he played in 42 games, won 26 contests, and had an excellent 2.83 Goal Against Average. He continued his stellar performance that season and won the Vezina Trophy (league's outstanding goaltender) and Calder Memorial Trophy (most outstanding rookie).
summed up the situation perfectly when he said, "I think Mike Milbury made a very bold and gutsy statement. It's a high risk to consider perhaps a plan on using him next season. But this kid could be sheer genius. I, for one, believe he's a very, very special player".
Is there any reason to believe that DiPietro can have a successful rookie career just as Barrasso did? Yes. Successful goaltenders such as Rick require a very special type of mentality; a mentality that thrives on perfection. According to
"I like to think goaltending is like being a professional golfer, where you are always out there alone with the spotlight shining on you. Whether you a make a good play or a bad one, a lot of people expect perfection like with Tiger Woods. Now, that's pressure. But I'm ready for it."
Rick DiPietro is indeed a very, very special player. Did Milbury make a major mistake in dealing away Roberto Luongo, Kevin Weekes, and drafting DiPietro? No. He took a calculated risk on a kid with enormous potential, tremendous character and a knack for stopping the puck. #1 draft picks can often be a complete bust, but if I was a gambling man I would put all my money on Rick DiPietro. He is indeed worthy of a #1 pick.
Some sites worth checking out about DiPietro:
Extensive coverage about the signing at
DiPietro's page from a
Boston University Hockey Site
See what the
Teen Expert on LongIsland.com
has to say about Rick