Ben Knopp has a special distinction, the answer to a trivia question only select hockey fans would know and care about. The Jackets were barely an NHL franchise, still in its infancy, with no recognizable names etched in the original team roster at the time of the 2000 Entry Draft, the organization’s first. Ben Knopp has the distinction of being the Jacket’s 2nd ever draft selection(3rd player in the organization), after Rostislav Klesla was given the distinction of the first player selected (4th overall).
When Columbus dealt away their 2nd round selection in the 2000 draft in acquiring current goaltender Marc Denis, they were hoping to find a gem in the 3rd round, and put their eggs in the basket of a Moose Jaw Warrior. Unfortunately, the world of drafting can be as much of a crapshoot as anything, especially in rounds beyond the first. The Jackets are slowly figuring this out, having taken part in 3 drafts with varying successes.
There is no reason to write off Knopp yet, however, and a journey through his major Junior and short professional career point to signs of this. Knopp had a very accomplished Junior season, one of the more memorable ones for those prospects in the Jackets system.
In his first Junior season, Knopp put up 60 points for the Moose Jaw Warriors, including a 30 goal season. His immediate impact in the Western Hockey League lead the Canadian Hockey League to name Ben to the CHL All-Rookie Team, a distinction shared only with Rusty Klesla and Rick Nash, certainly elite company. Hitting the 30 goal plateau would be something Knopp did again in his final Junior season, split between Moose Jaw and Kamloops.
Knopp got a first hand glimpse of the business behind sport, when he was dealt right before the Christmas break in his final Junior season, 2001-2002. Heading from a struggling Warriors squad to a stronger Blazer squad, Knopp became Kamloops’ leading scorer on a team that boasted Scottie Upshall and Jared Aulin. Knopp managed to demolish his career high in goals in his final Junior year, putting up 44 goals and 83 points in 78 games.
Knopp found the adjustment to Kamloops to be an easy transition, despite only donning the Blazer blue and orange for 41 games. He accredits the ease to two different sources. Knopp claims that there is a bond between prospects in the organization, and made it clear that Tyler Sloan, who was signed as a free agent with Columbus on October 2nd of 2000. Knopp and Sloan, both natives of Calgary, became teammates after Knopp joined the Blazers. Knopp also credited his billets upon arriving in Kamloops. In fact, he credits his billets as a major contributor to his great situation in Kamloops. It is also one of the aspecs Ben feels that he took for granted in Junior.
In making the jump to professional hockey, Ben Knopp has noticed many other changes he’s had to make in adapting to the professional game. Among these, Ben stated that, unlike in Junior, one has to show up for every game, not being able to take any games off. Knopp is forced to battle harder for each and every inch on the ice at the professional level. Because the players are physically mature, it is harder to battle for space on the ice and in the corners, Knopp suggested. He also suggested, while playing in the East Coast Hockey League, that the skill level is comparable to that of the Western Hockey League, however, talking to him at the time, he had yet to see any real action in the American Hockey League, until he was called up to Syracuse days later.
Before Knopp gets ahead of himself though in thinking of an National Hockey League career, there are areas in which he needs to improve upon, areas he knows he needs to focus and pay more attention on. Ben feels his main issues that need to be dealt with are his strength, competing against ‘physically mature’ men, as he put it. Vigorous offseason work should be a solution to this, something Knopp is committed to doing. Knopp also needs to re-adjust to the speed of the professional game, things that will come with hard work and dedication.
Despite being a 3rd round draft pick in the Jackets inaugural season, Knopp has not panned out as planned thus far. There have been questions on how badly Knopp wants to play professional hockey for a living, and questions about character. With the effort Ben has put into the Dayton Bombers, and now with the Syracuse Crunch, those myths should be put to rest. He has slid down the depth charts in Columbus, but it is not out of the question by any means to climb back up, something he looks forward to doing.