EDMONTON, Alberta | Eric Fehr and Ryan Stone met as 15-year-olds, eager to earn their chances in the Western Hockey League.
At 16 they played on a line together for the Brandon Wheat Kings, and at 18 they were among the first 32 players selected in the 2003 NHL draft. It has taken longer than either expected, but the two old friends finally saw each other in the NHL for the first time Saturday night.
“It is funny because back [when we were 16] I was always getting mad at him for not making good passes because he was this skinny little bean and when he passed the puck it was always all wobbly,” Stone said. “Now he can probably tell me a thing or two about passing and scoring.
“Definitely from where we were at 16 or 17 and all of our dreams and goals, it probably has taken a little bit longer, but that is just the way it goes.”
Fehr was selected 18thoverall by the Washington Capitals and Stone went 14 picks later to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The next season, they combined to terrorize WHL foes to the tune of 92 goals and 210 points.
They parted ways as their professional careers beckoned but remain close friends. When Stone was married this past offseason, Fehr was there.
They have faced each other in American Hockey League contests but never in the NHL until Saturday. Both never thought it would take five professional seasons for it to happen.
Fehr had plenty of success with the Hershey Bears, but health problems sidetracked his career. Last season was his first full year with the Caps, and with eight goals and 17 points in 25 games, Fehr is finally producing at a rate people expected after back-to-back 50-goal campaigns in the WHL.
Stone was never able to replicate his WHL offensive numbers in the AHL. He also never had much of a chance to prove he belonged with the rebuilding Penguins. He played in only eight games stretched across two seasons before getting traded to Edmonton in January.
After collecting 17 goals and 57 points in the AHL last year, Stone has found a role with the Oilers. He is still searching for his first NHL goal but has five assists in 15 games.
“I’m really happy to see him in the National Hockey League,” Fehr said. “I always believed he was a good enough player to play in the NHL, and I don’t think he got the opportunity he deserved in Pittsburgh. I’m really happy he’s had a chance to play here and I hope he does well - just not tonight.”
There’s another member of the Oilers whom Fehr is pretty familiar with. Dustin Penner is the only other player currently in the NHL from Fehr’s hometown of Winkler, Manitoba. Penner was three years his elder and played college hockey in the United States, but there was expected to be plenty of interest Saturday night for this Hockey Night in Canada contest in the Pembina Valley.
“I grew up with him and played high school hockey with him. I hung out with a little bit - not too much. He was a little older than me,” Fehr said. “Right now we’re the only two in the NHL [from Winkler], so I am sure they will be tuning in back home.”