Yesterday, I was given the opportunity to talk to Leaf Prospect Ben Winnett. Ben was drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and is currently playing in the NCAA. He is a fast skater and an even better shooter. Hopefully this is the first of many interviews to come my way.
Andrew: Welcome Ben, it's an honour to have you here
Ben: Thank you, I'm honoured to be here as well
Andrew: Well, let's start things off by getting to know you better. Ben tell us a little bit about yourself and your past
Ben: I'm 19 years old, I'm from New Westminster, British Columbia. I grew up playing minor hockey in Burnaby, and went on to play two years in Salmon Arm in the British Columbia Hockey League, and now I'm in my sophomore season at the University of Michigan.
Andrew: Growing up, what was your favourite team?
Ben: Growing up my favourite team was actually the Toronto Maple Leafs, I was really fortunate to be drafted by them. I took a lot of flack for being a Toronto fan from the west coast, especially from my parents being from Montreal, they liked the Canadiens, my brothers liked the Canucks, but I was always a Leafs fan
Andrew: Okay, this ones's about the draft. What went through your mind or what were you thinking when you were drafted?
Ben: I wasn't really surprised with Toronto, I knew they were a team that was interested in me, but obviously it was a fantastic feeling to go to my favourite team growing up. I'm very fortunate in that sense, but it's also a relief, it was a pressure packed year; playing, and with all those scouts, but I couldn't have been happier with the way it ended up.
Andrew: Tell us Ben, was there ever a point in your life when you knew you would make the NHL, perhaps something someone said to you or an event that occurred?
Ben: Well, I can't really remember any specific comment from a coach or a player or anything that said "you know, I think you'll play in the NHL." I don't think anything can guarantee whether you're a first round pick, second round pick, or just a free agent. I think you have to continue working hard and develop in your game and just see how far that'll take you.
Andrew: Ben, what is the one thing you're looking most forward to when you come to the NHL?
Ben: I'd say the NHL has the best hockey players in the world and I think every athlete wants to reach their potential and play at the top of their sport, and for hockey that would mean playing in the NHL for me.
Andrew: Is there a player or a team you would like to work with sometime in your career?
Ben: I would say that's the Toronto Maple Leafs. I want to be in that system for many years to come. I'm a big sports fan, so after hockey's over, however long my career may be, I'd still like to be involved in the game whether it be through management, scouting, or coaching. I'm not quite sure, but definitely Toronto is where my mind is right now and that's where I want to be playing in a few years.
Andrew: What goes through your mind when you think of yourself in the NHL?
Ben: It's hard to think about, I've never even put on my draft jersey from Toronto because I just feel that I haven't played a game for them, so I shouldn't put that jersey on just yet, but I'm just trying to take it one step at a time. I'm having lots of fun here in Michigan, playing with some good teams, good players, and good coaches. I haven't really thought that far ahead of what it would actually be like to play in the National Hockey League.
Andrew: What do you think inspired you to start playing hockey?
Ben: I'd have to say my brothers. From a family off three brothers, and I'm the youngest, so growing up I always saw them with a stick in their hands, and I think it's just automatic that I want to be just like them. I think they just inspired me to play, and my parents have just kinda supported me throughout my whole career unconditionally, so they've also inspired me and been my role models throughout the whole process.
Andrew: Final question of the night Ben, Is there any word of advice you'd like to give to all young hockey players out there?
Ben: I think I'd just like to say have fun, I feel like hockey is just getting so serious at such a young age that they're playing 12 months a year, and they're just grounding their horizon as far as other sports, hobbies, or extra curricular activities. I feel like there's so much pressure on young kids nowadays from their parents and their coaches. I think everyone needs to remember it's just a game and we all just need to have fun and respect each other out there.
Andrew: Thank you Ben.
Afterwards, Andrew and Ben discussed topics surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs (Schenn, Sundin, and more!) If you want to hear what Ben had to say or the whole interview, tune into Leafs This Week!(tomorrow at noon EST, not today) It'll also be a holiday special, so that's very exciting.
Note that the broadcast link has been changed, just follow the link through our site tomorrow when you want to listen in, and the new one will be there waiting for you!