Ducks, Kings pleased with picks
LOS ANGELES -- Whenever Cam Fowler was asked before the NHL draft who his favorite player was, he always said Scott Niedermayer, who retired this week from the Anaheim Ducks after an 18-year NHL career.
It was the player he patterned his game after and aspired to be like one day. He never expected to be shaking his hand on stage after being drafted and essentially being asked to follow in his footsteps.
The only person at Staples Center more surprised than Fowler, a projected top-five pick, to see his name drop down the draft board was Ducks general manager Bob Murray, who came into the night looking for a defenseman and ended up leaving with arguably the best one available.
When the Dallas Stars selected goaltender Jack Campbell with the 11th pick, the Ducks' contingent, which included Niedermayer, couldn't walk onto the stage fast enough and give Fowler a Ducks jersey.
"We were in a hurry," said a grinning Murray, who admitted he tried to trade up to pick Fowler. "We were happy. I'm not going to lie."
Fowler, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound defenseman from Windsor (OHL), was almost like a star-struck teenager -- well, he is 18 -- when he shook Neidermayer's hand and accepted his new uniform.
"He said, 'Congratulations,' and I'm like, 'Oh, my God, it's Scott Niedermayer,' " Fowler said. "The rest kind of blacked out. I don't remember what happened. But I hope to talk to him some more and pick his brain."
If things go Murray's way, Fowler will have plenty of time to talk to Niedermayer, who may be taking a front-office position with the Ducks. After picking Fowler, Murray looked over to Niedermayer and said, "That's your first project."
Fowler, who had 55 points with Windsor last season in 55 games, says he believes he will be on the Ducks' opening-day roster, which caused Murray to chuckle but not entirely rule out.
"It's against all my instincts to ever do that, but if he makes our hockey team, he makes our hockey team," Murray said. "That's the way it works with the cap now. You can't wait like you used to. We're going to do our best to get him ready."
While Murray would like to see Niedermayer mentor Fowler, he stopped short of comparing the two after the draft: "Oh, no, I don't want to do that to him. Don't do that to that poor boy."
Whether Murray likes it or not, the comparisons will be there and it's something Fowler is already prepared for even if he knows he may never live up to those lofty standards.
"With Scott Neidermayer leaving they're looking for a mobile defenseman like me who can contribute offensively, and he's a guy I patterned my game after and looked up to so I know the comparison will be there," he said. "It's a huge loss for Anaheim. You're never going to fill Scott Neidermayer's shoes, but I'm definitely going to do my best."
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If Murray was shocked to find Fowler still on the board at No. 12, he was equally stunned to discover right winger Emerson Etem, born and raised in Long Beach, still available at No. 29. Etem was ranked eighth among North American skaters by NHL central scouting and projected to go in the top half of the draft, yet there he sat mere feet from the Ducks' table surrounded by 100 friends and family who live mere miles from the Honda Center.
"We were looking over at him and his head was getting lower and lower," Murray said. "He was a great interview. Our guys loved him in the interview and we wanted him. All day long we were thinking about moving up, but we left it alone, and things fell our way. It turned out to be a real good day. We're ecstatic. We never thought in our wildest dreams we get those two players in the first day."
Etem, a 6-foot, 190-pound right wing who scored 64 points in 72 games for Medicine Hat (WHL) last season, immediately jumped up and hugged his parents and older brother after his name was called and breathed a sigh of relief as he took off his jacket and walked to the stage.
"I'm at a loss for words right now," he said. "Being a California-born hockey player being picked by the Ducks. It couldn't be a better fit for me. I'm just ecstatic right now. My emotions are running out of control right now."
While the Ducks ended up with two of the players they wanted without having to trade up, their cross-town rivals and NHL draft hosts, the Los Angeles Kings ended up trading up four slots from No. 19 to 15 with the Florida Panthers to select Derek Forbort, a 6-5, 195-pound defenseman from the U.S. National Development Program. The Kings also sent the Panthers the 59th overall pick.
It was a surprising pick for Forbort, who only had a two-minute interview with the Kings at the combine and never expected to be taken by Los Angeles. Forbort, however, was happy to put the uniform on for the first time in front of the home fans, who gave him a standing ovation as he stood on the stage.
"You never know how it's going to turn out, but I'm really happy with where I ended up," said Forbort, who has committed to play hockey at the University of North Dakota next season. "They have two great defenseman in [Drew] Doughty and [Jack] Johnson and I would love to play with them one day."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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