A good performance in the Ivan Hlinka tournament last summer put Nick Oliver on the radar for the 2009 NHL draft, but a broken collarbone kept him out most of the season, which left everyone, including him, wondering where he might go.
The Nashville Predators, who had three picks in the fourth round, took the 6’3, 184-pound forward 110th overall.
Oliver played eight games for Roseau High School last year, where his father was coach. The senior captain scored four goals and 10 assists. With the Fargo Force of the USHL, he played 12 games, posting a goal and an assist. He is committed to St. Cloud State University for 2010.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Oliver at Predators Development Camp in Nashville last weekend. He was found heckling Blake Geoffrion during an on-camera interview, which gives a glimpse into his outgoing personality.
HF: What happened with your collarbone injury last year?
NO: I played 10 games down in Fargo this year, it was end of October/early November and I broke my left collarbone. That put me out about six weeks. And then I came back to play high school for Roseau, and second game back got hit into the boards and kind of reaggravated it. It kind of jammed it together again. Didn’t re-break it. That set me back again for three or four weeks. I was out close to two and a half, three months.
HF: Was it a hit into the boards both times?
NO: The first time I was actually one-on-one, trying to go and lost my edge and I slid into the boards behind the net on my back. The second one I was playing left wing, got a breakout pass, moved it to the center and kind of got hit on my right shoulder and jammed my left shoulder against the boards.
HF: Before that, in your career you’d been fairly healthy, right?
NO: Before that, I think the only thing I did was break my wrist in the fourth grade jumping off of things.
HF: Was it really hard mentally being out that long?
NO: Right away you kind of get a tendency to feel down, bad about it, get down on yourself about it a little, but that doesn’t help anything. You want to get back and you want to get back as quick as you can. You just have to know it’s out of your hands. You just have to let it heal. I took my time coming back the first time and felt pretty confident, and then got hurt again and I thought I might have rebroken it so I was pretty devastated until a couple days later I went to the doctor and found out I didn’t re-break anything. Just try to keep a positive attitude.
HF: It seems like a long time to be out for a collarbone.
NO: I’ve heard different from different doctors. The doctor I was seeing, he said six weeks you should be fine, and I waited maybe even close to seven weeks the first time. Went through all the tests — pushup tests, percussion tests, and everything cleared up. He said I was good to go, it felt 100 percent. I talked to the trainer here in Nashville and he said it’s usually a two or three-month injury. He said I probably should have waited a little longer.
HF: Were you able to watch the Force in the playoffs? They had a good run there.
NO: I actually went back down after my high school season and practiced with the team every day and worked out. I was able to go on all the playoff road trips to Lincoln and Omaha. It was fun getting back with those guys and getting excited again for this year coming up because I hadn’t played much last year.
HF: And you had the U18s going on at the same time.
NO: Tough time in the Fargo/Moorhead area, with all the flooding and everything. We were all helping out sandbagging. It was a good relief for a lot of people for the Force to do so well and make it all the way to the final round. The U18 and the US team winning it there I think brought a lot of inspiration to a lot of people — took their minds off the flood fight.
HF: You had been invited to join the U18 team in Ann Arbor for the year, but you wanted to play at home?
NO: Yeah, I got an offer last summer but I had already kind of talked to Coach (Dean) Blais in Fargo about doing a before and after with high school. So I could kind of get the best of both worlds, play in the USHL and go back and be a senior captain of my high school team with all the guys I grew up playing with. I declined, I mean it was a great opportunity, but I’m glad with the decision I made. I had a great time in Fargo, I learned a lot and I was able to go back and finish out my last year of hockey with all my buddies.
HF: Why did you decide on St. Cloud State for college?
NO: I just really liked the coaching staff, really liked the direction the program’s headed. It’s a good college. And I like the fact that it’s mainly a hockey school. It’s the only D1 sport there. The fans love it there, and rink’s awesome. They have a lot of great recruits coming in, it’s on the upswing. I think it’s going to a fun time.
HF: Were you a package deal with Mike Lee (PHX)?
NO: (laughs) No, I committed probably a year before him. But I was really excited once he did commit there because he’s been my best friend growing up. We got to play together a little bit this year in Fargo. Then in a year we’ll meet up again in St. Cloud.
HF: What do you think you might study at St. Cloud?
NO: (laughs) I don’t know yet. Both my parents are in education, I might want to do something like that, or maybe a doctor or something. I am 0% sure on what I want to do (laughs).
HF: You didn’t seriously consider any other schools?
NO: No, actually, it was before my sophomore year, I hadn’t even played a high school game yet, and I went to St. Cloud and visited. I liked it that much. The (Univ. of Minnesota) Gophers were in town when I visited and just to see the coaches, fans, and whole buzz around the campus, I just fell in love right away. A week later I called up Coach (Bob) Motzko and said I wanted to be a Husky.
HF: And you’re friends with Zach Budish too, right?
NO: Yeah, me and him the last two summers we’ve played on the US U17 and U18 teams that go overseas. I’ve stayed at his house for a week two summers. I still haven’t made it down this summer yet, but we’ll try to pick out a week. But yeah, we always hang out and have a good time.
HF: Did you know anyone else in the Predators organization when you got drafted?
NO: I knew of Colin Wilson just because he was up for the Hobey Baker last year. Jeff Foss, he’s from Moorhead. His senior year and my sophomore year we played in high school against each other so I knew of him. And I knew Budy had gotten picked in the second round so I was pumped when I got picked here, obviously. I didn’t really know anyone else.
HF: It looks like you’ve made good friends so far.
NO: Yeah, it’s pretty fun, we’ve almost been here a week but I’ve gotten to know all the guys pretty well. They put us through a lot of work but I’ve learned a lot already with week. I’m just going to try to take that into this season coming up.
HF: You didn’t go to the draft, correct?
NO: No, I went home and watched it with my parents on TV Friday night and then got up early on Saturday and turned on the NHL Network and watched the second day of the draft.
HF: Did you consider going?
NO: Not really. I talked to my adviser and he told me if you’re for sure going to be a top-three round guy then you should probably go, but if not there’s no need to. Fourth round – I thought that was pretty early. I thought if I’d go, it would be later rounds so I was obviously really pleased with that. It was a good surprise.
HF: Being injured you were off a lot of people’s radars.
NO: Yeah, I think so, that’s what I heard anyways from some people. I think maybe with a full year I would have had a little more exposure, gotten viewed a lot more by some NHL scouts.
HF: Did you talk to any other teams before the draft?
NO: I talked to a few teams. I didn’t talk to many. I didn’t go to the combine or anything. I met with Nashville, they were the only team I met with in person, maybe the beginning of June down in Prior Lake, Minnesota for a Fargo Force tryout camp. I met with Dave Westby down there. We met at a restaurant, just had a quick interview and that was it. I talked to a few other teams over the phone.
HF: How did you do in the testing when you got to this camp?
NO: I thought I did pretty well in the strength testing. I know the skating testing kicked my butt a little bit, just with the conditioning level. That’s one thing I’ve got to work on – my skating and my conditioning.
HF: I noticed that you have very long legs.
NO: (laughs) I guess I thank my mom, she’s got long legs. I try to work on my stride and stuff, use the long legs to be more explosive and get a skating edge on other kids.