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Buium's winning ways have him climbing NHL draft rankings


It's become tradition for the NHL to bring the top prospects in the upcoming draft to a Stanley Cup Final game to give them an up close look at the league's biggest stage.

This year, Boston Terriers centre Macklin Celebrini, Medicine Hat Tigers centre Cayden Lindstrom, Michigan State Spartans defenceman Artyom Levshunov and Denver Pioneers defenceman Zeev Buium visited south Florida for Game 2. 

"An awesome experience," said Buium, who led all NCAA blueliners with 50 points in 42 games during his freshman campaign. "Something I've never done before."

At the game, they were introduced to everyone from Charles Barkley to DJ Khaled to Wayne Gretzky. 

"We took a picture with Ariana Grande too," Buium said with a big smile. 

But the moment that resonated the most actually came in the morning when the quartet took in the Edmonton Oilers skate. 

"When we met Connor McDavid," said Buium. "Watching him play, he's the best player in the world. I was talking with the guys, I don't know if you know the movie [Thunderstruck] with Kevin Durant where he passes a ball to a kid and the kid ends up taking all his magic, I was like, 'Maybe if we shake his hand, he'll give us some of his magic.' We were joking around about that."

McDavid's magic has been on full display of late as Edmonton's captain produced consecutive four-point games to help the Oilers force Game 6 against the Florida Panthers

But Buium also had the magic touch this season. He helped the United States win gold at the World Juniors and Denver win a national championship at the NCAA Frozen Four. Along the way, the 18-year-old from San Diego has rocketed up draft rankings. He moved up five spots to No. 8 on Bob McKenzie's latest list of top prospects, which is based on a sampling of scouts. The final list will be revealed on Monday. 

Among the top tier of defencemen, Buium believes he stands out.

"My mindset and my competitiveness," he explained. "There's a lot of talented players, a lot of skilled players, and we're all so different. I don't know their games to a tee, but I've seen enough of all of them to know we're all very different. For me, I'm the most competitive kid there is. I've been on so many winning teams that I'll bring a winning culture to a team, and I think that's something that teams want, guys that have been in situations to win and have won."

Buium, who stands 6-foot, 186 pounds, is now the top-ranked defenceman on TSN director of scouting Craig Button's final list of top prospects coming in at No. 4.

During a conversation with TSN, Buium broke down his big moments this season and explained why Vancouver Canucks captain Quinn Hughes is the guy he enjoys watching the most in the NHL.

The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

TSN: During the trip to the Cup final, you guys stopped by the room where the news conferences happened. Celebrini took the podium and you jokingly asked, 'How does it feel to never win anything?' Of course, your Pioneers knocked out his Terriers. So, let me ask you, what was it like to win everything this year? 

Buium: Awesome. I can't even wrap my head around it still. It's still a whirlwind. Hopefully one day I can sit back and take it all in. With the World Juniors, it's a team I wanted to play for my entire career and ever since I was a little kid. Being able to make the team and be with that group and win it on the big stage was just an unbelievable experience. And then the national championship, it's something everyone wants to do and to be able to do it with my brother [Detroit Red Wings prospect Shai Buium] is so unique. It's so crazy to think that all the stars aligned for it to go this way.

TSN: Keeping with the news conference theme, if you could give one NHL player truth serum and ask them one question, who would the player be and what would the question be? 

Buium: Oh man, I don't know. I think I'd maybe ask Auston Matthews where he gets his style from. 

TSN: I thought you would ask about his shot, but you're interested in his style? 

Buium: I don't know, I just think it's cool. I don't have the best style myself, and any time I can get better it's something I'll try to do. If we went with more of a hockey question, I'd probably ask Cale Makar about his elusiveness on the blueline and what he's thinking when a defender is coming at him. That's something I'd like to pick his brain about. 

TSN: What's the toughest question you faced at the scouting combine? 

Buium: If there were two rookies on the team and one guy goes out when he's not supposed to and the coach asks you about it, what would you do? Would you lie or tell the truth? I said I would lie for my teammate because I'd rather have the respect of my teammates than my coaches. You're going out there with those guys to battle with them and, as much as your coach matters, your teammates matter more. 

TSN: Did they give you a sense for whether that's the right answer?  

Buium: They told me it's a good answer. There's really no right or wrong answer. It's kind of just what you think or believe. I got asked, and this was a little bit easier, I got asked if I was in the military would I want to be a pilot, a mechanic or a sniper. I said I would want to be sniper because you have the responsibility. If you miss one shot, you'll lose half your team. I like that. 

TSN: You scored in the gold-medal game at the World Juniors. You scored an overtime goal in the NCAA playoffs. What allows you to come through in the big moments? 

Buium: Those are the games I love waking up for. I don't think there's any better game than waking up and playing a championship game or on a big stage with a lot on the line. That's when my mind goes clear, and I just play off instinct. I have a lot of emotion when I play, and I think that's what gets the best out of me is when I have to play in those big games and the big moments are there. I'm a guy who's at the top of his game when I need it to be there.

TSN: You seem to exceed expectations at every level. Where does the confidence come from? 

Buium: I've always been a confident kid. I've always been a believer in myself and what I can do. It dates back to my 15s year at Shattuck-St. Mary's. I mean, no one told me I was going to make the National Team Development Program. No one really believed I was going to. I put my mind to it and proved a lot of people wrong and proved to myself that I could do it. I always had belief and confidence in myself, and throughout the years it's just grown and gotten bigger. 

TSN: You didn't start the year as a top prospect. How much did that push you?

Buium: It definitely did. But, for me, it was about having the best season I could more than the draft or anything like that. I wanted to come in and make a good impression on my teammates and coaches and win a national championship. It was just about coming in very confident and knowing I have the capabilities to do what I want to do out there. I had the opportunities as well. It was a great year. It was definitely a year to remember. 

TSN: And you didn't stop winning even at the combine. You finished first with 16 pull-ups during fitness testing. Did you expect that? 

Buium: Yeah. I mean, pull-ups are always something I've been good at, even when I go for testing with teams. I didn't know if I would be first, but I had a good feeling I would probably be in at least the top three or top five. It's always something I've been good at.

TSN: What's your personal best? 

Buium: I've gotten to 20 before, but not doing it as strict as what they do at the combine. It's a little more strict there. Maybe if I miss a rep or something and my arms don't go fully down I could probably get 20. 

TSN: Where do you feel like your game grew the most this season? 

Buium: Defensively. Honestly, that's something I take a lot of pride in. It's something not a lot of people know about me and underrate, but my defensive game is something I really take pride in. I really want to be a guy who can play the last two minutes of a game when we need to shut it down. So, for me, that was the biggest thing and, by the end of the year, in the national championship game and all those playoff games I was playing those minutes. 

TSN: How did you become better defensively? 

Buium: It was a mix of everything. Video obviously helps a ton with pausing and seeing where your mistakes are. Practice was probably the biggest thing and going against different kinds of players. I needed to go against bigger, stronger guys. I had to go against guys like [6-foot-3, 205 pounder] Rieger Lorenz. He's big. He's strong. He's really good at protecting the pucks in the corners and it was about learning how to use my strengths to my advantage. How do I outsmart him and out-quick him and not try and out-muscle him. That was a big thing for me. Early on in the year, I'm defending bigger and stronger guys, and I was trying to out-muscle them and be more physical and that wasn't helping me because they were stronger. It was about how I could out-quick them and use my brain. 

TSN: What would be your approach to defending McDavid if you're out in the ice against him? 

Buium: I really don't know. Maybe I would just lay down and take his legs out or something. I don't think there's a certain way to defend him, but I'd try my best.

TSN: Who do you see as your NHL role model? 

Buium: I would probably say Quinn Hughes. Hughes is not the biggest guy but obviously very quick and agile on his feet. I love watching him play, but I feel like there's no one exactly like me with the way I play. 

TSN: You have a tattoo on your arm of the dates of all your wins, including the under-18 World Championship gold, and you have it in Hebrew. Why? 

Buium: My family is Jewish. My parents were born and raised in Israel. With us being pretty religious I thought it would be really cool and have even more meaning being in Hebrew ... We speak Hebrew and understand it, so I thought that would be a cool touch. 

TSN: You still have family in Israel. How much did the attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 and the resulting war weigh on your mind during the season? 

Buium: It was tough. Obviously the day that happened wasn't easy with everything that was going on. I didn't know if our family was okay or not. When we got the all-clear that our family was doing well you ease up a little bit and everything feels a lot better. Knowing that our family was good, and everyone was healthy and safe, that's all that mattered to us. The rest of the season I was fine. I checked in on them every once in a while and was making sure everything's good. 

TSN: Have you faced anti-Semitism during your hockey journey? 

Buium: No, fortunately I have not. Obviously, kids say stuff, things happen, but I haven't had to deal with anything like that. So, I feel very fortunate to not have to go through any of that. People have their own opinions. People will say their own things. I'm just going to keep living my life.