Last year, Casey Fitzgerald was at home, waiting to hear his name called at the NHL Entry Draft.
It never happened. So Fitzgerald went about his hockey career, playing on the Boston College blue line and scoring four goals with 27 points in 38 games for the Eagles.
He came to Buffalo this year, knowing he might again not hear his name, but to support his friends and family, including first-round pick Matthew Tkachuk, who went to Calgary sixth overall.
So he was elated when the Buffalo Sabres made him the 86th overall pick in the third round.
“I think coming in after last year I had no expectations,” Fitzgerald said. “I came out here to support my friends, my cousin Matthew Tkachuk and if I go, I go. If I don’t, I’ll be fine. So I didn’t really have any expectations. Just came in here, eyes open, just hoping for the best.”
He has some experience with the inner workings of the NHL. His father, Tom, played in more than 1,000 NHL games and is an assistant general manager for the New Jersey Devils.
“I was trying to make my way over to the Buffalo table and he grabbed me and just said congrats,” Fitzgerald said.
“I’m mad at Casey for stopping at the New Jersey table first,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma joked. “Tom and I were on the coaching staff together in Pittsburgh for a year, so I know Casey. More than anyone in the draft, I’ve seen him play quite a bit. I was excited to see Casey’s name go up. ... He was a guy that was at New Jersey’s development camp last year and was one of their better players. I think it’s a good opportunity for us to scoop him up.”
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald said he learned plenty from his father.
“He’s been awesome. He’s been a coach and a dad at the same time,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s just given me advice the whole day just saying take it slow. It’s going to be a long day, enjoy the process and so I did. I couldn’t ask anything better than this getting drafted for Buffalo.”
A native of Massachusetts, he is a veteran of the U.S. National Team Development Program. While there, he played with current Sabre Jack Eichel, who taught him about what Buffalo has to offer.
“I’m friends with Jack Eichel. He says he loves it here,” Fitzgerald said. “I talked to him. I didn’t really know that much about,” Buffalo “before but I’ve been learning a lot about it, just how much a hockey hotbed it really is and the tremendous support of the fans is awesome. Cool to hear from Jack about how much he loves it.”