On Saturday night, AJ Thelen played at the Arena at Gwinnett Center for the ECHL Texas Wildcatters, prompting new waves of guilt for me.
What does this have to do with Wojtek Wolski? I'm glad you ask.
Every entry draft, the NHL hosts a luncheon that includes the top prospects and the media. In the better-organized years, the players and their families are seated among the media during the meal, allowing a lot of time for chit-chat. At the 2004 draft, I was seated next to Wolski and his native Polish parents, the three of whom are some of the nicest people you will ever, ever meet. But did I take advantage of the opportunity to get to know them? No, sadly I did not. Their son had the bad luck of being a forward. Knowing that the Thrashers were going to take a defenseman the next morning, I was far more concerned with which d-men were there, and talking to them instead. I did have a nice conversation with Boris Valabik, who the Thrashers took 10th overall, so in that sense it was successful. Another guy I wanted to talk to was Thelen, and even -- to my later horror -- asked Wolski if he knew if Thelen was coming. Turns out he wasn't, since Central Scouting (wisely this time) had him ranked lower on their list, and that's how the invitations were determined.
Thelen was the 12th overall pick by the Minnesota Wild the next day and I stood right in front of him as he answered questions about how it felt to ... blah, blah, blah. He's had a meteoric decline since then. He was not signed by the Wild by the deadline, became a free agent and wasn't signed by any other NHL team either. The Wild had their AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros, give him a contract. Who then sent him to Texas.
In contrast, drafted 21st overall by Colorado, Wolski has been an NHL regular for two years, and has almost a point a game this year. If the draft were held again, he'd probably go top 10.
I'll probably go talk to Thelen when Texas comes back on Thanksgiving, because he's a story. But I'll still be thinking about Wolski, who is a terrific player and one I wish I had been more interested in when I had the chance.