Burnaby defenceman Joey LaLeggia has been waiting a long time to hear his name called.
The 5-10, 180-pound University of Denver blueliner finally got the news he has been working so hard to achieve, when he was selected in the fifth round, 123rd overall, by the Edmonton Oilers on the second day of the NHL entry draft on Saturday - the day before his 20th birthday
"I was very excited and a little bit in shock as well, because when you get news like that, it puts you back a bit," said LaLeggia on Sunday. "I've been aspiring to that for a long time."
Last year, LaLeggia was left untaken as an 18-year-old after seven rounds in the NHL draft despite finishing fifth in overall scoring and leading all defencemen in the B.C. Hockey League with 62 assists and 82 total points for a second straight season with the Penticton Vees.
As a Burnaby Winter Club minor prospect, LaLeggia was also overlooked in the Western Hockey League bantam draft.
Seeing his name topping the list in the fifth round of NHL draft results was belated recognition for all the hard work he has put in through the years.
"Third time's a charm," said LaLeggia, who perhaps more than many talented young hockey players, had to keep believing in himself despite a surprising lack of recognition at times.
The former captain of the Northwest Giants major midget team led the Burnaby-based squad to back-to-back B.C. championships with 95 career points.
Two seasons later, he was named the BCHL Interior conference junior A MVP and top defenceman.
At Denver, LaLeggia was recognized as the national Division I rookie of the year last season, leading all first-year D-men with 38 goals, including 11 goals. He was also named to the All-Western Collegiate first team and all-rookie team, as well as league rookie of the year.
"It was a great fit for me," said LaLeggia. "They are in need on the back end and, I had a lot of feedback from them. It's nice to go somewhere that you're wanted."
LaLeggia barely had time to blow out the candles on his birthday cake before flying off Monday to Edmonton for the Oilers' week-long development camp.
LaLeggia fully expects to be back at Denver for his sophomore season with the Pioneers. But that is not where he expects his dream to end.
"I'm still going to be working hard to strive to be in the best shape I can and have my best hockey season," he said.
"It's great motivation to keep working hard and one day get to be an Oiler."