For the first time in franchise history the Okotoks Junior A Oilers can now boast a player selected in the first four rounds of the National Hockey League Entry Draft.
The Phoenix Coyotes selected Okotoks Oilers graduate Rhett Holland in the fourth round, 102nd overall, at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, June 23 in Pittsburgh. Holland is the highest pick in Oilers franchise history. Oilers alumni Brad Eidsness (Buffalo, 2007), Derek Rodwell (New Jersey, 2009) and Corban Knight (Florida, 2009) were all fifth round draft picks.
“It’s hard to explain, it’s a pretty good feeling. I’m almost speechless,” said Holland in a phone conversation minutes after being drafted. “It’s thrilling and everything is happening so fast right now, I couldn’t be happier.”
Holland was ranked 167th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, meaning he was pegged as anything but a sure thing to be selected in Pittsburgh. He said being picked in the fourth round was sweet relief from what was an anxious weekend.
“I thought it was going to take a lot longer for it to happen,” Holland said. “I was expecting to be pacing around the house at like 3 o’clock in the afternoon, but it was pretty early and nice to get that out of the way and I didn’t have much time to panic.
“I was still pretty much in bed when I got the news.”
Holland found out he would be going to Phoenix before viewers on the NHL Network and he would be headed to Coyotes’ week-long prospect development camp on June 25.
“It was really early this morning at about 9:15 I got a call from my agent telling me that I had been picked, he knew before everyone else,” said Holland. “And he said be ready for a call any minute.”
Coyotes’ general manager Don Maloney reached Holland moments later to confirm the good news and welcome the big-bodied blueliner to the Desert Dogs.
“It was pretty low key, he just congratulated me and said he was happy to have me as part of the team,” Holland said of his conversation with Maloney.
The 18-year-old said he was confident his name would get called, but was well aware anything can happen on draft day. For example, Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) MVP Peter Quenneville, ranked eight spots higher than Holland entering the draft, was not selected.
“Some said I was supposed to go in the third, some said the seventh, some said not even drafted,” Holland said. “I had no idea when I would go.”
However, the Calgary native had a hunch his destination would likely be Phoenix.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of that organization,” Holland said. “I kind of had that gut instinct, they seemed the most interested of all the (team) meetings I had.”
The Phoenix Coyotes prospect took the road less travelled to arrive at this point in his career.
Holland was a highly-touted Midget player with the Calgary Royals organization in 2008 and spurned a chance to play for the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats. Instead, he took the collegiate route through the AJHL with three seasons with the Oilers, which helped him land a scholarship to Michigan State University. Holland, the second AJHL player selected in the draft after Fort McMurray Oil Barons’ blueliner Colton Parayko, will be making the jump to NCAA hockey with the Spartans in September.
“I stand by that decision and still think it was the right one,” Holland said of choosing to play Junior A hockey in Okotoks. “The Oilers helped me out tremendously to getting me to where I am today.”
His arrival as an NHL draft pick is made all the more remarkable given where Holland was two years ago. During his first season with the Oilers the stay-at-home defenceman broke his neck after a serious car accident in Calgary, which put his hockey career in doubt.
“Right after the car accident there were some moments of doubt, it was pretty nerve-wracking, I didn’t know if I was first off ever going to play hockey again,” Holland said. “My parents helped me out with going through that adversity and that stuff probably helped me out to make me better, I think.”
In fact, the support of his family has been a major driving force for his NHL dream. Holland’s father Len and mother Jerrie were fixtures at Oilers games from 2009-12.
“They were really supportive through everything, they came to every single Oilers game I’m pretty sure, made all the road trips,” Holland said. “The success I’ve had is pretty much all (due to) them.”