TORONTO — At the time, being bypassed in the NHL draft stung.
But, looking back, Kitchener’s Braeden Kressler wouldn’t change a thing.
“Obviously it was disappointing,” said the 18-year-old. “But the motivation just kind of kicked in. It’s one of the best things that happened to me.”
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, the Flint Firebirds forward relished the thought of proving people wrong.
And he got his chance when the Toronto Maple Leafs reached out soon after the NHL draft wrapped up this past July and invited him to their rookie camp.
Kressler, a lifelong Leafs fan, jumped at the chance.
He impressed the Buds’ brass so much that they invited him to main training camp and, on Friday, inked him to a three-year entry level contract worth $825,000.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” said Kressler, when reached in Toronto. “It’s still kind of kicking in. It’s a real honour to be a part of this organization.”
Kressler came up in Kitchener minor hockey but went to play in the Greater Toronto Hockey League with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens and Mississauga Senators when he was about 12 years old.
Flint selected him in the second round (28th overall) in the 2019 Ontario Hockey League draft and he had nine goals and nine assists in 46 games as a rookie.
Then the pandemic hit.
Like many hockey players, he lost the tail end of the 2019-20 season and playoffs as well as the entire following campaign after the league shutdown. Kressler was tracking well ahead of the NHL draft, but being idle for so long hurt his stock.
So, it was tough watching his friends fulfil their dreams at the draft and not being selected.
But hard work has always been a hallmark throughout Kressler’s career. It’s something his parents Steph and Ryan instilled him at an early age.
“They kind of pushed me to work hard every day,” he said. “They never forced anything on me but supported me. They were always encouraging me to be better.”
He took that mentality into rookie camp and, clearly, the Leafs noticed.
Kressler, who received a Leafs sweater with his name on the back when he was born, is still with Toronto as the team continues pre-season play. But he’s expecting to be reassigned to Flint at some point, as most prospects his age are, and plans to take all the lessons he’s learned from pros such as Mitch Marner and John Tavares back to the OHL.
It has been a whirlwind weekend with lots of people to thank.
There was a call to former Firebirds coach Eric Wellwood, who offered sage advice after Kressler was snubbed in the NHL draft.
There’s a celebration dinner planned — on him — with his parents and sister Bryanna. He’s taking agent Vlad Spektor out for a bite to eat as well.
Then, it’s back to work on the ice, this time as an official NHL prospect.
“It’s awesome how it all worked out,” said Kressler.