September 13, 2020

Exclusive: Eric Ciccolini had a feeling the Rangers would draft him after his interview and his love for Eric Lindros

Eric Ciccolini (NYR/Getty Images)

When Ranger fans look back at the 2019 draft the names people mention are Kaapo Kakko, Matthew Robertson, Karl Henriksson and Zac Jones. Kakko played in the NHL for the Blueshirts, Robertson had a strong season starting with being offered an entry level contract before being sent back to juniors, and Henriksson and Jones had strong outings in the World Juniors in December.

There was a lot to like about the 2019 draft. One Rangers draftee who was part of that class, has flown under the radar a bit. 7th round pick, Eric Ciccolini is a right wing that could be heard from at some point.

I reached out to Eric and discussed his experience at the draft, his freshman year in college with the Michigan Wolverines and his shoulder injury.

Eric Ciccolini; born and raised in Ontario

Eric Ciccolinis’ story starts like any other Canadian, growing up with hockey all around him, and naturally starting to play at a young age. “I’m from Vaughn, Ontario, about 30 minutes from Toronto. I grew up there and started playing hockey at age 4. Until I moved to Michigan last year, I played all my hockey in Ontario”, Ciccolini adds. Playing in his hometown Vaughn for the Kings, Ciccolini worked his way up.

His first year in the OJHL was a good experience for the young winger. He was eventually traded to a bigger team, the Toronto Junior Canadiens. It was a move that saw Ciccolini go from the lowest ranked team to the 1st ranked team, and in 2018-19 he had his breakout year. With the Junior Canadiens, Ciccolini recorded 62 points in 48 games, finishing 9th in points and 10th in goals.

Draft and joining the Rangers organization

Last summer, Eric’s family traveled to Vancouver. “It was a great experience I had a feeling I was going to be drafted but had to wait so long. Even if I didn’t get drafted, I was going to Michigan to play college hockey. Being drafted was a bonus”, Ciccolini explains.

It gives us some insight into his expectations leading up to the draft. Ciccolini wasn’t invited to the Combine but in Vancouver he did speak to 15 teams. Friday, the day of round 1, Ciccolini sat down with the New York Rangers, and he had a feeling he wasn’t going home undrafted: “I spoke to them on Friday and got a sense they were interested in drafting me“, he says.

In the 7th round, he finally heard his name being called and he walked down, met the front office and put on his draft jersey. When asked what he did with the jersey, Ciccolini smiles: “When I came home for Christmas, my dad had framed it with the ticket and they have it on the wall at their house”.

After the Draft

After the draft, Ciccolini said goodbye to his parents and boarded a plane for New York. He joined the other prospects in Westchester to attend the prospect development camp. It was another one in a string of great experiences for the Ontario-native. “It was something new for me, playing junior hockey in Ontario. Being on the ice with players from the OHL, AHL, NCAA and Europe was a good experience”. It wasn’t the first time in New York for the then 18 year old, but it was the first time being part of the organization.

When asked about his experience of Madison Square Garden, he’s quick to answer. “I was at game 4 of the 2014 Cup final against the Kings and it was a great experience. Unfortunately they didn’t win the Cup that year but at least they won that game“. Ciccolini had a good camp with the Rangers before departing for Michigan to start his college life.

Picking Michigan and shoulder surgery

Ciccolini had several options for college and visited different schools before ending up with Michigan. For Eric, it was important to be close to his family.

Last year I was comitted to Colgate, but I decommitted and got a call from Michigan, New Hampshire and North Dakota. I visited Michigan and ND, and decided to pick MI. It is closer to home, the facilities are great, a lot of good players coming out of that program. I am happy with the choice I made“, he explains his decision.

With the program in Michigan, Ciccolini is following the same path as a former Ranger he talks to regularly. That guy is of course Jed Ortmeyer, the now 42-year old former winger who played 177 reg season games for the Blueshirts between 2003 and 2007. Ortmeyer is the Director of Player Management overseeing the prospects in North America.

Ciccolini gets a call once a month from Orts to check up on him. “Especially since the shoulder injury, there has been regular contact. Ortmeyer also went to Michigan so there’s some familiarity there when we talk about our facilities“, Eric says about him.

While we touched on the subject, I asked Eric to explain a bit about his shoulder injury. Back in January 2019 he overtextended his shoulder on a play but he decided to play through it. With it being a draft year, and a lot at stake, he did not want to miss out.

Then in June he tore his labrum and needed some more time to recover. “I played in college and then had surgery in February this year, missing the final few weeks of the season. Right now, I am fully healed and ready for the new season whenever it starts up again“.

Support coming from his family helps Eric get through the rough season with his injury. His parents have missed only 4 games all season. “They travel to every game, even on the road, my parents are there in the stands.

College life and the number 88

His freshman year in college was eye-opening for Eric Ciccolini. It was the first time he was away from home and in a different environment. “I learned a lot about myself, being away from home. Handing hockey and life on my own. The first half of the season was an adjustment period, and after that I was more comfortable“, he continues.

The previously mentioned shoulder injury complicated his season a bit but added to the experience. The days are long though, with classes in the morning, hockey practice in the afternoon and then homework in the evening.

Now that he fully adjusted to life in college, and his shoulder is fully healed, Eric is looking forward to the new season. When that will be remains a mystery as of now.

I’m in Ontario since early March. With the borders still closed, and the season being pushed back, we don’t know when this will change“, Ciccolini says. He’s not the outdoors type like Steven Fogarty for instance.

In his spare time, he likes to relax at home. Video games with friends is a popular pastime of course with a lot of young prospects. But being in Ontario, surrounded by family, is at least a situation where he’s comfortable as we all wait for this crazy pandemic to ease up and things to go back to normal.

As so often, I end the conversation with the question that’s always on my mind. What is Eric’s favorite number? Growing up in Ontario, it shouldn’t come as a surprise it’s number 88 because of The Big E.

I always wore no 88 as a kid because of Eric Lindros“, he explains. His favorite players growing up were 2 other Canadians though, Tyler Seguin and Sidney Crosby. When asked about his game, he says he tries to model himself after Jesper Fast: “We have a lot in common with the way we play. Agressive on the puck, strong on the forecheck. So he is one player I look at“.

PS: I want to thank Eric Ciccolini for sitting down with me and giving me the opportunity to share this story with our fanbase. I met him at the 2019 NHL Draft and he was taking his time to talk to a lot of Ranger fans and pose for photos. A great kid.

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