Twenty years ago, the then Cape Breton Screaming Eagles drafted a goaltender by the name of Marc-Andre Fleury with the team’s first pick at the 2000 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Entry Draft.
Fast-forward to Friday night and the Sydney-based franchise once again selected a netminder with their top pick.
Cape Breton drafted Nicolas Ruccia with the No. 17 overall selection during the QMJHL’s first-ever virtual draft, which aired live on the league’s YouTube channel.
“I’m speechless,” said Ruccia when reached by phone by the Cape Breton Post. “It’s such an amazing feeling, I can’t describe it.”
The 16-year-old appeared in 22 games with the Laval-Montréal Rousseau Royal of the Quebec Midget ‘AAA’ Hockey League, posting a 14-6-1-0 record, along with a 2.54 goals-against-average and a .903 save percentage.
“I had a really strong start to the season and I had nine or 10 straight wins,” said Ruccia, who was watching the draft with his family and girlfriend.
“I had a little slump at Christmas, but my game got better and better after that.”
The Laval, Que., product was one of two goaltenders selected during the first-round. The Val-d’Or Foreurs selected netminder Vincent Filion with the No. 6 overall pick earlier in the night.
Ruccia was one of three goaltenders listed in the second-round of the draft by QMJHL Central Scouting. He was ranked No. 35.
Eagles general manager Jacques Carrière said Ruccia was a “highly-touted goalie” for the team.
“He’s very quick, he has very good legs, very good movement and he’s a great person,” he said.
“He’s an individual who wants to get better every day and every practice and doesn’t want to let a single puck go by him whether it’s in a game or in practice – he’s a gamer.”
Ruccia, whose first language is English, knew the Eagles organization was high on him, but he wasn’t getting his hopes too high.
“When Cape Breton was picking it was a different type of nerves then the other teams,” said Ruccia, whose brother Trey Wilson-Millings recently finished his football career with Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Que.
“When they called my name, confetti splashed everywhere, it was a pretty special moment.”
Earlier this week, Carrière told the Post 18-year-old William Grimard would be the team’s No. 1 goaltender next season. Carrière believes Ruccia could potentially fill the backup role come October.
“I think so,” said Carrière. “I believe he’s definitely a guy who will be fighting for a job next year, like everyone who comes to camp.”
Ruccia also believes he’s worthy of finding a spot on the team’s roster.
“I want to earn a spot on the roster and be a consistent backup goalie,” said Ruccia. “When I’m in the net, I don’t want the team to feel like the backup is in nets, but to have confidence in me to show up every game.”
The QMJHL Entry Draft will continue Saturday with Rounds 2-14 beginning at 10 a.m. AST.
“As it stands right now, we’re satisfied where we’re at,” said Carrière, heading into the remainder of the draft. “It’s going to be status quo for now.”
As for the coincidence of drafting a goaltender in the first round, 20 years after Fleury, Carrière laughed.
“I don’t want to compare him to Marc-Andre Fleury because it’s putting the bar pretty high,” said Carrière. “We’re convinced we have a pretty good player on our hands.”
Follow the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Entry Draft live on Twitter with the Cape Breton Post's Jeremy Fraser. To follow live click here.