Before Seth Ambroz headed to Xcel Energy Center floor to meet the Columbia Blue Jackets brass, his mother, Sue, wrapped him in a second hug she said she deserved and figured he needed.
Projected to be a low first- or high second-round selection in this weekend's NHL draft, Ambroz endured a fall to the fifth round, No. 128 overall. Ambroz, a New Prague native, said the drop was an unpleasant surprise.
"You don't know what to expect," Ambroz said. "Obviously I was expecting to be higher, but now it's all said and done and I can't complain. Being selected to an NHL team is a great accomplishment."
Last season, NHL insiders were projecting Ambroz, a 6-2, 209-pound forward, as a mid first-round pick in 2011. He was ranked 28th in the Central Scouting midterm rankings and fell slightly to 31st in the final rankings. No players ranked ahead of Ambroz heard their name called later than the second round this weekend.
Ambroz said of his outlook as he waited: "It wasn't necessarily 'if,' just more 'when' the whole time. Obviously I thought I was going to go early on, but stuff happens."
Whatever confidence NHL teams lacked in Ambroz had no impact on his mother.
"I believe Columbus got a No. 1 pick in the fifth round," Sue Ambroz said.
Ambroz elevated his status with a solid 2009-10 season playing for Omaha of the United States Hockey League, producing 22 goals and 27 assists and finishing with a plus-24 rating. He scored 24 goals this season, but his rating fell to plus-2.
Of greater concern to scouts is Ambroz's speed, something he knows must improve.
"It's going to be those first three steps that need to get quicker," Ambroz said. "I'm confident I'll be able to do that and get to where I want to go."
After three seasons in the USHL, Ambroz will skate for the Gophers this fall. Coach Don Lucia considers him a "prototypical power forward" who will add value to the program because he is "not afraid to get involved physically."
Sue Ambroz expects her son to use his draft-day frustration to sharpen his edge.
"I would not want to be the people who are competing against him for a position, because they are going down," Sue Ambroz said. "He'll be in the NHL sooner than people think."
Omaha Lancers coach Bliss Littler concurred, telling the Star Tribune last week that Ambroz "may have started a little high" in the draft projections "but I would not bet against Seth Ambroz."
Waiting and watching
Draft-day angst is common for players throughout the rounds. New Wild forward Zack Phillips, selected in Friday's first round (No. 28 overall), worried that months of first-round projections would go unfulfilled.
"It's nerve-wracking," Phillips said. "You've been hearing for a couple months, 'First round, first round,' and then as the first round dwindles to an end, there's a little bit of pressure and your heart starts pounding. So it's definitely that much more exciting to hear your name called."
Several of Saturday's second-round selections said the wait did not outweigh the thrill of being drafted.
Florida selection Rocco Grimaldi, a 5-6 forward, said of waiting to be taken 33rd overall: "When it was done [Friday] and I wasn't picked, I was just looking forward to today, knowing that I was going to go sometime. I was glad it was early so I didn't have to wait too long."
Tomas Jurco's deft hands and slick moves were featured on the Xcel Energy Center video board Saturday, but he still fell to the Detroit in the second round (No. 35 overall). "I was kind of sad [Friday]," he said. "It was kind of hard to go to sleep, but today is a new day and I'm really happy to be drafted by Detroit."
Aware that players' draft positions ultimately are nothing but numbers, Boone Jenner, who went 37th overall to Columbus, said, "All of us go to camp, and from there on it's who wants it more."