Sixth round NHL draft picks don't often have television crews following their every move. Andong Song isn't a just any sixth round draft pick.
The 18-year-old Song is the first player born in China to be drafted into the NHL, taken by the New York Islanders at 172nd overall. At the encouraging of his mother, who wanted her often sick son to pick up a sport, he started playing in his native country, where rinks were scarce.
From Puck Daddy:
"There were only two rinks in Beijing. It wasn't even a full-sized NHL rink - it was sectioned off parts of the ice. That's how I started," he said.
After falling in love with hockey, Song wanted to reach the next level, which meant a move to North America. At 10, he began playing in the Oakville suburb of Toronto before moving to New Jersey, where he attended Lawrenceville Academy and is one of the varsity team's captains. Lawrenceville was also the alma mater of 2006 Rangers first round selection Bobby Sanguinetti.
Song started as a combination forward/defenseman, but has settled into playing defense. He lists as the player he would most like to emulate million time Norris Trophy winner Niklas Lidstrom, who is a pretty lofty role model for a guy born in Beijing, where the hockey culture is still in its toddler stage.
Song's agent tipped him off that the Islanders might be thinking about taking him, thanks to interest shown in him. The team has a history of connections with China, sparked by owner Charles Wang, who emigrated to Queens, NY from Shanghai at the age of eight. Clinics, tournaments, teams and rinks sponsored or paid for buy the Islanders are helping grow the game in China, which hopes to host the Winter Olympics in 2022.
Chinese broadcasting service CCTV had been following Song at the draft and didn't know how things would go, either on the floor at the BB&T Center or back home.
Longmou Li of Chinese television station CCTV was part of a camera crew that's been following Song for three years. He said there was a lot of anticipation in China to see when Song would be picked.
"We didn't go live for the first round but we're live for the second round," Li said. "And on a Saturday night at 10 p.m., I heard it reached 2.5 million people waiting for his news."
China's next stage as a hockey nation is watching its first ever representative in the NHL establish his career. That attention is something Song is looking forward to.
From The Associated Press:
"Being the first Chinese player, it's a lot of pressure from people back home, but good pressure," Andong said. "I hope that will motivate me to become a better player and hopefully I'll make them proud."
Song will attend Massachusetts' Phillips-Andover Academy next fall and plans to play college hockey thereafter.
When - and, more realistically, if - he will arrive in Brooklyn to play for the Islanders is anyone's guess and a very long way off. It's far too early to project where he fits on an eventual future Islanders roster.
But that doesn't make him any less of an important and intriguing prospect. His progress will certainly be followed with more interest than that of most sixth round picks. And with a few billion extra scouts.