COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As the No. 19 pick approached, there were some nervous moments at the Blue Jackets draft table.
High on their list was an aggressive-yet-intelligent forward with a high hockey IQ and a professional hockey pedigree, one they had seen a lot of throughout his draft year and really wanted to select with their second first-round pick. Kerby Rychel, son of former NHL player Warren Rychel, was the Blue Jackets' target and they were elated to go to the podium with his jersey in hand.
Rychel, 18, has put up back-to-back seasons of 40 goals with the Windsor Spitfires (OHL), a club owned and operated by his father and former Blue Jackets assistant coach Bob Boughner. After a strong season in 2011-12 that included 74 points (41 goals) in 68 games, Rychel went to another level in his draft year and showed an ability to score "pro style goals," as he said during his media session on Sunday night.
He tallied 40 goals and 87 points this past season - good for eighth overall in the Ontario Hockey League - and stapled himself on the radar of NHL clubs with first-round picks.
The Blue Jackets had Rychel targeted for several reasons but the only thing he's concerned about is the excitement of draft day and the opportunity to be part of an organization that's on the rise.
"(Columbus) is probably around three hours away from Windsor," Rychel said of his new hockey home. "It’s a young team and they’re turning the corner and there are definitely exciting times ahead for the organization.
"I’ve only heard good things about the city, so it’s definitely an exciting time for me and my family and I’m excited to get down there.”
Rychel has done his homework on the Blue Jackets too, and knows he's joining an already-deep group of prospects led by Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner, Ryan Johansen and the other members of this year's NHL Draft class - many of whom (including Rychel) will be in attendance at the club's annual development camp in Columbus.
And there's another aspect of Rychel's game that may not come as a surprise to those who are familiar with his last name. His father was undrafted and had to fight his way into the NHL and literally fight to stay, and aside from scoring goals, the younger Rychel does not shy away from the confrontational side of the game - just like his old man.
Rychel racked up 94 penalty minutes in 68 games for Windsor this year, and as he said himself, he's not afraid to stir things up or drop the gloves if it's going to help his team win. In his mind, "toughness" is a situational adjective.
"I go to the net and I play hard and I finish tracks and block shots and I think that’s tough too and I’m not afraid to drop the gloves as well," Rychel said. “My dad, as you guys know, fought a lot too when he played. He told me bigger and stronger (about players in the NHL). I definitely don’t think I’m just a fighter.
"I do have back-to-back 40 goal seasons too, but I think it’s an element that I have in my game and it’s really important.”
Being the son of an NHL player definitely has its ups, but there are also significant drawbacks, including but not limited to an intense spotlight if the child chooses to follow in dad's footsteps. The elder Rychel earned quite the reputation and it has helped Kerby during his development, because when Dad speaks, it means something. He's been there, done that, and knows what it takes to get through tough times.
Though it's hard to believe a player who has scored 80 goals in his last 136 games can be doubted, both Rychels know it comes with the territory -- and it's helped make Kerby a stronger and better player knowing his dad has experienced a lot of what he's gone through.
"I think people just viewed me differently because of my dad," Rychel said. "I still think some fans do that, but I think I’m well respected in the game. I mean obviously I just got picked in the first round, so I definitely think people think highly of me. It’s something I just use as motivation.
"I like when people criticize me and I like proving people wrong and, you know, it’s definitely helped me out a lot."
Is there a chip on his shoulder, one that he can bring with him to the NHL?
"Oh yeah, definitely," he said. "I’m sure some people are thinking I’m not a first round pick, but I’ll prove them wrong again."
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