Ohio State men’s hockey senior forward Tanner Fritz stood outside the locker room with his hands tangled inside his shirt. The more he spoke about plans for the future, the more his voice softened.
Minutes later, a smile broke across the face of his teammate, junior defenseman Sam Jardine. The Chicago Blackhawks’ draft pick spoke proudly about his draft day, but as he discussed his NHL status, his tone changed from self-confident to self-precautionary: he’s still working toward a contract.
As Jardine spoke, Chad Niddery sauntered down the hallway that leads to the OSU locker room. Upon hearing he’d been requested for an interview, the Buckeyes’ senior forward half-jokingly declined his requirement to speak. Why would anyone want to talk to him?
Moments later, Niddery, the guy that unsuccessfully suppressed his disdain for interviews, couldn’t mask excitement for the next stage in his hockey career, a stage that will likely earn him another stamp on his passport.
Three guys. Three different situations. Three entirely different perspectives on the future.
On its roster, OSU has two players who were selected in the NHL Entry Draft and four who were invited to 2014 NHL development camps but have not been drafted. Below is a comparison of three Buckeyes who share the same locker room, but belong to different categories with regards to their future.
Senior forward Tanner Fritz
NHL Status: Undrafted, Attended Chicago Blackhawks Development Camp last July
After graduation, Fritz wants to play professional hockey, and if he can have it his way, he’ll play in North America.
Aside from being contacted by the Nashville Predators his sophomore year, Fritz’s invite to the 2014 Blackhawks development camp was his first indication his future might lead to the NHL.
The OSU captain has 92 points in 117 games played. He caught the eye of NHL scouts last season when Blackhawks representatives, who were at an OSU–Michigan game to watch Jardine, approached Fritz after the game, he said.
Chicago’s representatives believed Fritz fit the Blackhawks’ style of play and wanted to introduce him to the organization, he said.
“It’s a pretty humbling experience,” Fritz said of attending the development camp. “Just seeing how fortunate and lucky (the Blackhawks) are … it’s every kid’s dream to be in that position.”
Chicago instructed Fritz to make better use of his speed and shot, he said.
In his final season, Fritz is working to improve his play with the knowledge that scouts are always in attendance and that small plays can make a big impact.
“You know there’s always going to be people watching,” Fritz said. “It doesn’t take much for them to notice you.”
Still, Fritz acknowledged there’s a chance he won’t receive additional NHL attention, in which case he might make use his connections in the business to earn a tryout.
While NCAA athletes are not permitted to have agents, many have family advisers to assist their career decision-making. Fritz, however, does not have one.
He’s a lone rider in limbo, but said he’s not nervous for the future.
Junior defenseman Sam Jardine
NHL Status: Selected by Chicago Blackhawks in 2011 NHL Entry Draft (169th overall)
Jardine had just arrived home when the Blackhawks officially claimed his rights in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Before his selection, he had become uneasy about falling to the sixth round and left his house to calm himself.
By the time he had returned, Chicago’s chief amateur scout Bruce Franklin, who recognized Jardine when he was playing for the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, called Jardine to relay the good news: The then-future Buckeye was NHL property.
In his third season with OSU, Jardine has 25 points in 74 games played, often logging time on the Buckeyes’ top defensive pairing.
With his foot in the door, Jardine is now working toward earning a contract from the Blackhawks when he’s finished at OSU. Unlike Fritz, he has a family adviser.
“Everyone always tells you that as soon as draft day comes, you’re right back into the pool with everyone else again,” Jardine said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself.”
The Blackhawks are keeping tabs on Jardine. Representatives from Chicago attended multiple games last season and Blackhawks’ development coach Mark Eaton was in Columbus for the OSU–University of Nebraska-Omaha series earlier this year.
Jardine will have contact with Chicago throughout the year, but any comments the Blackhawks make are general, as they are wary of infringing on the instruction of Buckeye coach Steve Rohlik, Jardine said.
“You put in the work so that you’re performing for the team here, for Ohio State,” Jardine said. “The extra benefit of that is preparing yourself for the NHL.”
Senior forward Chad Niddery
NHL Status: Undrafted, not invited to a 2014 NHL Development Camp
The Buckeyes’ addition of freshman defenseman Janik Möser might have done as much for the team’s blue line as it has for its fourth-year forward applying for dual-citizenship in Germany.
“I’ve always dreamed of going overseas,” Niddery said. “I’d love to go to Germany or Sweden or Switzerland and play over there.”
Niddery, whose grandmother is German, will often get language lessons from Möser, who grew up in Mannheim, Germany.
Knowing basic German is a requirement for citizenship and something Niddery seems to have his heart set on learning before he attempts to play overseas.
During a five-minute discussion of his hockey future, Niddery mentioned the prospect of playing professional hockey in North America only in passing.
At 24, Niddery said he doesn’t consider the idea of starting in the lower tiers of American or Canadian professional leagues as enticing as his preferred option.
He plans to follow the path of two members of the OSU hockey staff. Buckeye director of hockey operations Layne LeBel and associate coach Brett Larson each played professional hockey in Germany.
The connections will be key for Niddery, the senior said. European recruiting is mostly done via word of mouth.
“I’m at the age where I have buddies that (play) over there now,” Niddery said. “Basically you just have to network as much as you can just to get that one opportunity.”
Niddery’s optimism comes during what might be his career-best season. He’s logged one goal and three assists through 11 games, four points shy of last year’s career-best point total for a season.
Any nerves for the future are hidden by his electric excitement.
“Get paid to play hockey overseas? Man, that’s living the dream,” Niddery said. “That’s how I look at it.”
As the three teammates ponder their professional futures, the Buckeyes are just one game into Big Ten play. OSU fell to Michigan State, 3-1, Thursday night at the Schottenstein Center to start off its conference season.