Wayne Gretzky’s message to the latest generation of Next Ones

wayne-gretzky

Edmonton Oilers great Wayne Gretzky. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press via AP)

Who better to keep hockey in the spotlight during this pause than the Great One himself? In the latest episode of #HockeyAtHome, Wayne Gretzky took on the role of interviewer when he hosted the “Next Ones.”

In a virtual meeting, the NHL’s all-time points leader was joined by top 2020 draft prospects Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, Jamie Drysdale, Jake Sanderson and Tim Stützle to discuss a variety of topics related to life in the NHL.

The Great One seemed comfortable in a rare role reversal that had him in the interviewer’s seat, kibitzing with Drysdale, a Toronto native, about his minor hockey organization. Drysdale won gold with Canada at the 2020 world juniors and is expected to be the first defenceman taken in the coming draft.

Meanwhile, Sanderson — whose dad, Geoff, played over 1,100 NHL games — is planning on being the first Montana-born player to play in the NHL. His rooting interests lie with a former Gretzky rival in the Calgary Flames.

“Maybe putting on a Flames jersey one day would be super cool,” he said.

German Stützle, the top-rated European skater, got a smile out of Gretzky, when asked what team he’d like to be drafted by. Stützle said that “since Leon (Draisaitl) got drafted (by) Edmonton,” the Oilers would be his choice.

Throughout the episode, Gretzky weaved in several thoughts of his own.

“To play in the National Hockey League is a thrill, it’s a pleasure and it’s an honour,” he said. “And when you think you’ve worked hard, you work that much harder because there’s nothing like being an NHL player.”

Byfield, the 2019 CHL Rookie of the Year, is a six-foot-four, 215-pound centre who surprised Gretzky with his answer as to whom his favourite player at the moment is.

“I’m definitely a big fan of the young D right now,” Byfield said. “I would say Cale Makar — I like watching him play.”

Lafreniere, the consensus top prospect, may be the first Quebec-born player to go first overall since Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003. Gretzky watched him play in the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Edmonton and remarked, “You’re a pretty good hockey player — I know you’re going to do great things.”

The five Next Ones were left with one simple piece of advice from the Great One: “Embrace every moment of it — it’s the greatest game in the world.”

Check out the full episode here:

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