For most people, co-piloting an airplane for the first time would be the highlight of the week -- maybe even the year, if you flew the plane after building it with friends.
For Aidan Muir, the week is just getting started. Sunday, Muir’s hockey career may take flight at the NHL Entry Draft in New Jersey.
Things are happening fast for Muir, who graduated from high school less than a month ago. Last week, he and three classmates flew out to Arlington, Wash., to build an experimental airplane with teacher Ed Redies. Saturday, Muir and his father, Dustan, are flying home, where the family has gathered to watch the NHL draft in hopes Muir’s name is called.
“It would be a dream come true. I’ve been playing hockey all my life,” said Muir, a Brampton, Ont., native who moved to Saline when his mother, Helen, accepted a job in the area five years ago.
Last spring, Muir sat in Jenni Dodge’s math class refreshing his phone over and over, with the teacher’s permission, when the NHL Central Scouting list came out and vaulted him into the ranks of world’s best hockey prospects.
“It was awesome. I had the biggest grin all day,” said Muir.
Muir is the 108th ranked North American skater in the latest NHL draft ratings. Unlike every single player ranked ahead of him, Muir’s name had never previously appeared on the NHL scouting rankings.
These days, Muir has all the credentials of a big-time NHL prospect. He has committed to Western Michigan University, where he will play for former NHL coach Andy Murray. Before college, he will spend a year developing his game with the Indian Ice, who drafted Muir with the first overall pick in the United State Hockey League draft this spring.
Still, Muir is still flying a little under the radar and has not received much attention from the hockey prospect fan sites. Most of the players in Sunday’s draft have been playing under the microscope for years. Muir has only recently begun to get attention.
“I’m a late bloomer,” Muir said.
While many of his Class of 2013 counterparts have been playing in heavily scouted Canadian junior leagues or NCAA hockey, Muir played for Victory Honda. He is the only Midget AAA player ranked by NHL Central Scouting. Muir tried out for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League but was the last player cut, he said.
“It worked out for the best,” Muir said. “I would have been a fourth liner there and I would not have developed.”
Muir played top line minutes for Victory Honda and led the team with 17 goals and 23 assists in 37 games. It was a breakthrough season for Muir, who scored 13 goals and seven assists the previous year.
“(Victory Honda) coach Brian Burke pushed me in the right direction and gave me the coaching I needed,” Muir said.
He also credited his parents for their support during early morning pratices and long road trips.
"They've been awesome. I can't thank them enough for all the support they've given me," Muir said.
The other crucial development was Muir finding consistency in his performance.
“This year I worked harder than ever and I was able to find consistency in my game that I didn’t have before. That seemed to be when teams took an interest,” Muir said.
Attracted by a rare combination of size (6’3, 195 pounds), speed, skill and work ethic, junior hockey teams and colleges suddenly came calling.
Muir chose to commit to Western Michigan.
“They were interested in me early and they always kept in contact,” Muir said. “But definitely, coaching is a big reason. Andy Murray is the coach there, and you can’t do better than that.”
Muir said his style was compared to that of Ryan Kesler, the speedy, tenacious Vancouver Canucks center who was named best defensive forward in the league in 2011.
The folks at Western have told Muir that they like the way he skates for a bigger kid.
“I’m a really fast guy for my size and usually the fastest guy on the ice. I’m also pretty agile,” Muir said, when asked what the Broncos saw in him. “I never take a shift off. I’m not having any fun unless I’m going hard. I’ve got pretty good hands for a big guy.”
Muir hopes NHL teams also see that skill set. Though excited about the possibility of realizing a lifelong dream Sunday, Muir said he is not overly nervous about it.
“Everything has come together so fast. I don’t really have the biggest expectations. I’m just glad to have all my family coming to visit,” Muir said. “If I don’t get drafted, I’ll be cool with that.”
Muir knows that the NHL draft is one of several ways to the NHL. The Detroit Red Wings recently signed undrafted Western Michigan Bronco defenseman Danny Dekeyser, who was reportedly pursued by a dozen NHL clubs. Indiana Ice alumni Torey Krug went to play for the Michigan State Spartans. He signed with the Bruins last March and played in the Stanley Cup Finals last week.
“In some ways, not getting drafted can be an advantage, because then you can negotiate to play where you want when your time comes,” Muir said.
Still, Muir wants to be drafted. He grew up watching the Maple Leafs, his favorite team until at least Sunday – when he might begin cheering for a new team.
Living in Saline, which despite its proximity to “Hockeytown” is not a hockey hotbed, Muir’s hockey prowess has not received a lot of attention.
“Not many people in Saline know that I’m any good. They may know I play hockey. But they don’t know I’ve got a chance to be drafted,” Muir said. “I don’t make a big deal of it and I keep it to myself. I’ll explain it if to people they ask, but even then people don’t always understand it.”
But some of his friends understand what this weekend could mean to him.
Muir chuckled when asked how fellow 2013 Saline High School graduate Joey Zakrajsek would react if Muir was drafted by the St. Louis Blues. Zakrajsek, who will play college football at Olivet Nazarene next year, lives and dies with the Blues on his Twitter account.
“Hah. He would probably run over to my house right away and give me a big hug. And then one day, he’d be playing for the Rams and I’d be playing for the Blues and we’d be making millions and buying mansions,” Muir said with a laugh.
Spending two weeks building an airplane with friends helped take Muir's mind off the draft. It also gave him ideas about a major at Western Michigan.
"I hear they have a great aviation program, and that seems really interesting after everything we've learned this week," Muir said.
When you're 17 years old, flying airplanes you just built and about to be drafted by the best hockey league in the workd, the sky is the limit.
The NHL Draft takes place at 3 p.m. Sunday and will be televised on NBCSN and the NHL Network.