Hobby Musings: Upper Deck wraps up Rookie Showcase – Rookies are often the front and center of any trading card year, including NHL releases. While collectors pull rookie cards, autographs and memorabilia cards of the new youngsters each season, they may not think about what it took to get those photos taken and those cards made. Thanks to Upper Deck’s participation in the recent NHLPA Rookie Showcase, fans can rest assured they’ll have plenty of exciting rookie cards to pull throughout the upcoming year. To find out more about the event and its importance for hockey cards, I had the chance to catch up with Upper Deck’s Chris Carlin. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: Chris, for fans who don’t know, what is the NHLPA Rookie Showcase?
CC: For 10 years, Upper Deck has partnered with the NHLPA to bring in some of the top talent in the NHL to start their careers off with an incredible weekend event. Day one is our chance to get to know the players where we conduct video interviews, have them open product with one of our Authorized Group Breakers, share our e-Pack platform with them (yes, some of them are users), shoot photos of them wearing their NHL jerseys for the first time and acquire autographs from the players. Day two is the on-ice day where we get them in their comfort zone doing what they love. There are two on-ice photo stations and an off-ice photo station as well. We have on-ice and off-ice videos as well. Fans can interact with players during Facebook Live videos through Upper Deck. That day ends with a fun shinny game with the players. There are some really fun evening events as well that are a lot of fun for the players.
KS: This may seem like a silly question, but why is it important for Upper Deck and the trading cards it produces?
CC: It is critical to acquire imagery, memorabilia and autographs for upcoming trading care releases. More than anything, it’s about building relationships with these players and coaching them up for what they are in store for during the their upcoming rookie season. Talking through their signatures and collector expectations is really important. In the course of getting to know them, we learn a lot about them that we can use for bios, but also in terms of ways we can partner with them together going forward.
KS: How would you say this is different from other card-related events that you’re involved with?
CC: It is really two unfettered days of access with these players without many distractions. It’s also our first time to meet with the players. We look forward to seeing how they will be as a partner. It’s like a super fun job interview.
KS: Beyond the trading card responsibilities, what else do the players do at the event?
CC: There are other NHLPA partners who attend the event. Adidas meets with them to get them some cool custom kicks. We have EA Sports involved in doing head scans for their upcoming NHL release. Players have time to train and also to get to know each other better in a fun, laid back setting. Since many have played together or against each other, there’s a healthy respect between them all.
KS: How many players attended this year?
KS: Overall, what assets does Upper Deck end up gathering there?
CC: Some of the signed assets we use for promotional purposes throughout the course of the season at events and with shops are some of the coolest in my opinion. The signed mats end up getting framed with a photo of the players while we also have really cool blow-up tickets that every one of the attendees sign as well.
KS: From what I’ve seen in the past, the players seem to have some fun and be a little more relaxed at events like this. Do you have any funny stories from watching any of the players at this year’s showcase?
CC: We have a MVP award in the form a Wayne Gretzky signed piece we give out to the player who is the easiest to work with throughout the weekend. I wasn’t sure we’d have it in time so I have a Teemu Selanne piece sent as well which is really cool. When we were interviewing players, Juuso Valimaki was talking repeatedly about his hero and countryman, Teemu Selanne. I immediately went to grab the piece thinking that this is a perfect Upper Deck Random Acts of Kindness moment. We’ve really worked hard on that program to better engage our fans, but to hear a player was a fan as well was awesome. To see his reaction when we gave it to him was amazing to see. He was thrilled and another Fin in attendance came up to me later as if to say, “Where’s mine?”
KS: With the new NHL season only a few months away, who do you think is the highest-impact rookie collectors should be keeping an eye on this year?
CC: I think there were players here who will make an immediate impact and players who are probably a year or two away from greatness. My personal rookies to watch this year who were in attendance there include Casey Mittlestadt, Jordan Greenway, Henrik Borgstrom, Ryan Donato, Evan Bouchard and Adam Gaudette. My sleepers this season who I think will really break out next year are Carter Hart, Brady Tkachuk, Nick Suzuki, Vitaly Abramov, Timothy Liljegren, Michael Rasmussen, Filip Zadina and Dillon Dube. There are always guys from this event that nobody sees coming having a huge impact their rookie season. It’s going to be fun to watch!
KS: When can we expect these rookie cards to start showing up in Upper Deck products?
CC: They’re out there now in 2018-19 Upper Deck NHL products like MVP and O-Pee-Chee. You can also find many of these prospects in products like Team Canada World Juniors, Upper Deck AHL and Upper Deck CHL. Grab them today!
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