Swift Current’s Ryan McCleary was elated to hear his name called in the National Hockey League Draft on Saturday.
The 17-year-old defenseman was selected in the seventh round, 194th overall, by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It was a super surreal moment, something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little kid. It’s great to finally have it come true. I’m very happy about and very happy I got to spend it with my family,” said the 6’2’’ blueliner.
He was the second pick in the final round of the draft, one pick after his Portland Winterhawks teammate Tyson Kozak was selected by the Buffalo Sabres.
“I was watching it on the TV but then one of my teammates got picked right before me. As I was texting him congratulations I ended up getting selected. It was a good moment for my family,” said McCleary the following day.
The excitement of being drafted into the NHL was intensified by being selected by the Penguins.
“That was always my favourite team growing up. I’ve been a huge Sidney Crosby fan as long as I can remember. To get selected by them, having been my childhood team, it’s kind of an unreal moment and it’s a dream come true.”
McCleary has worked his way up the Swift Current Minor Hockey system for years, including two seasons with the Swift Current Midget AAA Legionnaires. McCleary made his Western Hockey League debut last season and registered two goals and five assists in 18 games with the Portland Winterhawks.
“I feel like yeah the hard work has paid off. It’s just another opportunity you get to play on a team. I’m glad I got selected, but there’s a lot more work to be done.”
He hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps. Trent McCleary went undrafted during a standout career with the Swift Current Broncos, but was able to skate in 192 NHL games with the Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, and Montreal Canadiens.
“It was a special moment just because I think that’s been something he’s always wanted for me. He’s always been trying to get me here. For me to finally achieve it and hit my goal, I think he is really proud of me. It was a really special moment for us,” said Ryan.
McCleary received a call from Penguins General Manager Ron Hextall moments after being drafted. He also received a couple calls from members of the Penguins Development staff.
“I wouldn’t say it changes my approach to the game. I’m still trying to make it to the NHL, that’s the overall goal. It’s a stepping stone to get there, it’s a useful thing to have. I have an organization now that wants me and is trying to develop me. They’re gonna try to get me to make their team one day.”
In a few short months McCleary will be back with the Winterhawks for his first full WHL season.
“We’re trying to win a WHL championship. For me personally, I want to develop more as a player, try and get more in a leadership role, and just do anything to try and help the team win.”