As preparations continue for the annual NHL draft this weekend, it’s been far from a traditional draft year for draft eligible players and the teams that have scouted them.
In some cases, players will have played relatively close to a full season while others, like Soo Greyhounds defenceman Jacob Holmes, took advantage of any ice time they could get as some leagues played little to no games.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Greyhounds and their Ontario Hockey League brethren, didn’t get any games in this season, meaning a player like Holmes didn’t get into game action unless they went to play in other leagues.
“I’ve talked to guys that have went through the draft process before and it’s definitely a lot different (this year) than what they experienced,” Holmes said in a phone interview Thursday ahead of the draft. “It’s been a lot of video calls and calls over the phone, just virtually really. It’s a lot of reaching out and getting to know you as a person.’
Those video calls and phone calls were one of the very few ways NHL teams could interview players because of the pandemic.
In a normal year, some of those interviews would be in-person and have become a big part of the draft process over the years.
“They’re very unique and something that’s part of the process,” Holmes said of the interview process with teams. “It builds the excitement because they’re trying to learn mor about you and that’s the only way they can do that right now with COVID-19.”
Regardless of the difference, the 2021 draft still brings with it the excitement of moving one step closer to a dream for the 18-year-old defenceman.
“It’s definitely an exciting time,” Holmes said. “It’s one of those things where you dream about it for a long time, and you’ve always had that goal of playing in the NHL. Getting drafted is just one step closer to that goal. I’m excited and really have no expectations. I’m just going to take it step-by-step and enjoy the ride.”
A self-described skilled, two-way defenceman, Holmes said he has used his time to stay ready in the absence of the OHL season.
“It’s been a very unknown and tough year,” Holmes said. “There were a lot of hopes of getting back on the ice with the team and they were quickly taken away from us. The only thing I could control was staying in the gym and staying on the ice and being ready whenever I did get the call to go back. I felt I was ready at any point last year and I’m really excited to get back on the ice in September.”
Since completing his rookie season with the Greyhounds in 2019-20, Holmes has continued to work on the defensive side of his game.
“The big thing for me was I really wanted to work on my skating and my defensive side of the game,” Holmes said. “I felt like I’ve come a long way with those two parts of my game, and I’ll continue to develop them and use them to my advantage.”
With dates set for training camp and a regular season schedule in place, Holmes, like many of his teammates, is looking forward to the opportunity to get back on OHL ice in the fall.
“It’s been building ever since we got the dates set,” Holmes said. “It’s something we’ve been looking forward to ever since we got sent home in March (2020). One thing that us as a team is really going to focus on is to not take it for granted. We’re very lucky to play hockey at the level we do. It’s something that we can build off of and be excited and ready whenever we get the chance to get back on the ice as a team.”