Former Capitals general manager George McPhee said the realization that his son, Graham, was drafted by an NHL team over the weekend sank in this morning when he walked past his bedroom.
“There’s an Edmonton Oilers jersey hanging on the door of his room,” McPhee said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s hard to believe that he’s been drafted by and is property of the Edmonton Oilers of the National Hockey League.”
You would think that after attending more than 20 NHL drafts and calling out the names of hundreds of players, McPhee might have felt an emotional detachment from having his son taken in the fifth round of Saturday’s NHL draft with the 159th pick overall.
And for a few hours, he did. As a special assistant to Islanders general manager Garth Snow, McPhee sat at the Islanders’ draft table at First Niagara Center on Saturday for the second and third rounds of the draft, saying he had seen more players from this draft class than in any other he had directed in 17 years as the Capitals’ GM. But as the third round quickly transitioned to the fourth, McPhee heeded the advice of Oilers executive Kevin Lowe, who five years ago saw his son, Keegan, drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes.
“He thought it was really important to be with your son at the draft,” McPhee said. “My wife also felt it was the right thing to do.
“I wanted to help the Islanders and thought I maybe should be at the table, but after a couple rounds I thought, ‘You know what? It’s time to move up with my family.'”
Last summer, Graham McPhee asked his father where he thought he might be drafted when he was eligible in 2016. McPhee told him that if he played a lot and had a good season with the U.S. National U18 team, he might go in the third round. Anything less and he might go in the fifth round. Graham McPhee, a 5-foot-11, 172-pound left wing who grew up in Rockville, saw limited ice time last season and netted 10 goals and eight assists in 58 games with the U.S. U18 team.
As the fifth round neared its end, McPhee noticed that his former team, the Capitals, had picks at No. 145 and No. 147. He and Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan, roommates when they played together at Bowling Green, had not discussed the possibility of the Caps drafting Graham, but McPhee hoped they wouldn’t.
“While Graham would have probably enjoyed that, it’s best he wasn’t drafted by Washington,” McPhee said. “I did have that conversation with the Islanders, that it probably wouldn’t look right if they drafted him. Garth (Snow) said, ‘When we get there, let’s draft him anyway.’ He was next (on their draft list), evidently.”
The Capitals took left wings Beck Malenstyn and Aex Jonsson-Fjallby with their 145th and 147th picks and the Oilers took Graham McPhee at No. 149.
“I just think in the long run he’s better off being drafted by a club that’s a little more independent, one that I hadn’t worked for or currently work for, and make his own way," McPhee said. "It’s his life, it’s his day, it’s his time. And he’ll make his own strides with his own team.”
Graham McPhee began those strides more than a decade ago, when he shared his house with a Russian teenager named Alex Ovechkin, who lived with the McPhees shortly after coming to America as an NHL rookie in 2005. Ovechkin was 19 at the time and Graham was 7.
“With any kid, if you bring an NHL player into the house it’s a big deal,” George McPhee said. “But having Ovi here for a little while was great for the kids because Ovi was so great with the kids. He’d go down and play knee hockey with the kids in the basement; he’d shoot hoops out in the driveway with the kids. He wasn’t just this highly regarded player, he was an incredible guy and they liked him for him and not necessarily his status as a hockey player.”
Graham McPhee spent many afternoons skating at Kettler Capitals Iceplex after Caps practices. He attended games at Verizon Center and hung out in the team’s locker room after games. That exposure, his father said, has helped prepare him for what lies ahead as a freshman at Boston College and, perhaps, in his career as a professional.
“What I’ve enjoyed about watching Graham play is that he’s a real good teammate,” McPhee said. “He genuinely wants his teammates to do well and he wants to be very coachable. Whether he’s playing a little or playing a lot he wants to win every shift and be a good player when the coach calls his name. I think those are things he picked up from being around NHL players. They work hard, they carry themselves as professionals and if you ever want to have success, it’s all about team and not about individuals. I think those are things Graham learned well from being around the fellas.”
Graham McPhee began his first day of classes at Boston College on Monday and because of NCAA rules, cannot attend the Oilers’ development camp, which begins on Friday. He will, however, begin his college playing career under the same coach, 70-year-old Jerry York, who coached George McPhee at Bowling Green from 1978-82.
“You couldn’t ask for a better coach and a better community,” McPhee said “All you want is for your kids to be hard-working and healthy and happy. Going to the draft on Saturday morning, I thought, “Holy cow, my son might be drafted today. I don’t know. It’s the purest, simplest feeling and it’s hard to express it. You just feel lucky.”
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