COLUMBUS, Ohio -- You're T.J. Brennan and you're 18 years old and you're thrilled to death that you've been invited to the NHL draft combine. You can't wait to convince interested teams that you could be their guy. You've survived the rigorous physical testing and now the Buffalo Sabres summon you to a hotel room, sit you down, tell you to relax and watch the upcoming video. They don't serve popcorn.
"I was told they had some video clips," Brennan said. "I was just hoping it was something good because other kids told me, 'They had some of my highlights and they were asking, 'Who scored this sweet goal?' 'That was me!' I was hoping they were going to do that with me. That would have been easier."
But that's not the way it went down. There's Brennan, out on the ice, only he's not made to look like a coveted prospect. No, he's caught out of position during a short-handed situation, chasing a puck he shouldn't be chasing. The scouting staff wants to know what the heck he was thinking. Is that the system they play at St. John's of the Quebec Major Junior League or was he freelancing?
"I think I was a little over-aggressive," Brennan recounted Saturday, after the Sabres welcomed him into the organization with their first pick, No. 1 overall in the second round. "I think I went into the corner when I probably shouldn't have. I just made an aggressive mistake. I just had to explain what happened, stay calm and everything. I thought it was a pretty good interview."
Kevin Devine, director of amateur scouting, and his men listened intently. They were unconcerned by the fact the kid had misstepped. The play they were watching didn't bug them in the least. But how he responded was going to tell them some things they needed to know if they decided to fortify their future by investing in his.
They were angling to know how Brennan takes criticism, because if he doesn't take it well maybe he can't be coached and mistakes such as this one might never be eliminated. They wanted to see how he handles himself under unexpected duress, because if you're rendered speechless by something as benign as a video shown during an interview then how good will you be at making all those split-second decisions on the ice?
The Sabres didn't invite Brennan to a hotel room to find out if he can play. They already knew that. This session was intended to determine whether he has the mind-set and maturity that would allow his game to evolve.
"That's part of it," said Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier. "But what you want to know is if they have a good understanding of who they are, even at a young age. If they're honest with themselves. You get a sense of their makeup and their acceptance of responsibility and accountability and things like that. It's interesting. It's something we've really only been doing over the last few years. For most of the guys they get to see some video, they see some good things, they get to see some not so good things and they're asked to explain what's happening. I think it's been helpful."
Brennan made it through the video critique and the accompanying questions, seemed to have satisfied all the Sabres' concerns. Then he showed up at the draft and they asked to speak with him again, before Friday night's first round commenced, because they were picking first thing Saturday morning and they needed to close in on a decision. This time there was no video. Regier & Co. just rolled the questions, one after another, before Brennan was dismissed without promises or reassurances.
"There's always something more that you can learn from him," Devine said. "You find out a little more about his family and his commitment, just to reassure [yourself] that you were right the first time."
So the Sabres finally knew they had their man?
"We weren't decided on him until this morning," Devine said. "We actually came to the draft with maybe another name in mind."
They all mulled it over Saturday morning, Regier, Devine, the scouts and the coaches. They discussed a number of players before a consensus was built.
"When we took the pick I was relieved," Devine said. "Some of the other guys we were thinking about we had questions about character. Maybe the skill was there but we just didn't know if the character was there. So when we picked Brennan I think everybody said, 'Yeah, that's a good pick. He's going to play in the National Hockey League.' "