First-round draft pick Moritz Seider is making an impression during his first season in North America.
Story and body photo by Mark Newman / Cover photo by Getty Images
When Moritz Seider was figuring out what to wear during the 2019 NHL Entry Draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver last June, he decided to rock a bowtie.
“I wanted to keep the German tradition going,” he said. “Dominik Bokk (fellow German who was the 25th overall pick in 2018) did it the year before and I thought, ‘Maybe it’ll be lucky and I’ll go in the first round, too.’ That’s why I wore a bowtie.”
Even so, he still wore the look of surprise when Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman announced his name as the sixth overall pick.
“It was pretty funny because my mom told me like 15-20 seconds earlier, ‘Hey, it’s going to be your time – they’re going to call your name now’ and I thought, ‘Yeah mom, I know you’re excited and you’re nervous, but calm down.’ So when he said my name I was like, ‘Wait. What’s going on?’
Many hockey observers were taken aback by the choice, even though Seider was highly touted as a smart and mobile two-way defenseman of good size and hockey instincts with few weaknesses.
In fact, Seider was interviewed by all 31 teams during the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo just a few weeks earlier.
“I had the pleasure to meet all the teams and get to know a little bit about their organizations,” he said. “I knew there was interest from Detroit but they were always at No. 6, so I didn’t really think that far ahead.”
His interview with Yzerman, which was his final meeting of the NHL Scouting Combine, lasted 40 minutes and was a harbinger of what was to come. Yzerman quizzed him up and down, wanting to know almost everything about his family and his upbringing.
“He wanted to make sure that he didn’t miss anything,” Seider said. “He’s such a calm guy that it was like talking to a friend. He visited me three times, including twice with Tampa and once with Detroit. It was very exciting for me because I got the chance to actually meet a Hall of Famer.”
The bow-tied Seider was left tongue-tied by the shock of becoming the second-highest drafted German-trained player in NHL history, behind only Leon Draisaitl, who was the third overall pick in the 2014 draft by the Edmonton Oilers.
“I don’t have any words for how I felt,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘Don’t fall and do anything stupid on the stairs.’ I just wanted to enjoy the moment. And when you stand up there in front of all those people, your hands are so sweaty. But it was a phenomenal moment.”
It was the culmination of a memorable journey for Seider and his parents, Kay and Sabine, who had once quit their jobs as managers of a retirement home so that their son could pursue his dream of playing hockey at the highest level.
They weren’t always so sure of his chosen dream.
Seider still remembers his introduction to the game at age five.
“In kindergarten, we had the chance to jump on the ice once a week and after a couple of months, I got a little piece of paper in my stall from the local hockey organization in Erfurt. It was like, ‘Hey, you want to come over the next morning just to try it out.’
“I went with my mom and I was a little bit nervous but totally excited. All the professionals from the top team were there waiting for us, and they skated with us for a couple of hours. I was totally fascinated by hockey and it became a beautiful moment (in my career).”
Seider said his parents initially were a bit hesitant about his ambitions. They equated hockey with fighting, not exactly what they envisioned for their younger son. His brother Marius, 10 years his elder, had played a lot of sports growing up, but hockey was not among them.
His father had competed in track and field and his mother had played a little basketball, but hockey was not their idea of sport.
“They actually bought a book about the hockey ABCs so they were able to get in touch with the game,” he said. “I think they eventually gave the book to my grandma. Now they’re my biggest supporters and my biggest fans. Now they really like the sport.”
As a young teen, Seider showed enough talent that his parents found themselves faced with a monumental decision. When the opportunity came for him to play junior hockey in the Adler Mannheim system, both Kay and Sabine quit their jobs and left their home in Erfurt so they could move with then 14-year-old Moritz.
“I played a couple of tournaments with Mannheim as a guest player, so when I turned 14, we had a big discussion at home because Mannheim wanted me to come and I wasn’t ready to leave my parents,” he said.
“They decided to move with me, so they quit everything and we moved to Mannheim. It was a huge risk they took, but in the end, it worked out pretty well. They got good jobs, we had a nice apartment and it was a great move for my hockey career.”
After a couple of years of junior hockey, Seider got his first taste of the professional game at age 16.
“I played my first pro game at 16 and it was a huge challenge,” he said. “The main thing was I got to train with the team, so when the next season started, it was a lot easier than coming in as a complete stranger.”
At age 17, he appeared in 29 regular season games with Adler Mannheim in the top German league during 2018-19, then recorded five assists in 14 playoff games to help the Eagles win the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) title. He topped the year off by playing for Germany in the IIHF World Championship.
Looking back, Seider believes it was a year of great growth.
“In the beginning, I struggled a bit, but I think that’s normal for someone playing pro hockey at such a young age,” he said. “When I figured out my role, I was pretty happy. I felt I played very solid in the playoffs and I was very proud to represent my country in the World Championships, too.”
In many ways, it was an unforgettable season, from being paired with Joonas Lehtivouri, a 13-year pro out of Pirkkala, Finland, to babysitting for the veterans on the Mannheim team.
“Joonas was a great teammate,” Seider said. “He has such great experience that he helped me every single day, both in the locker room and on the ice. He was just so calm under the pressure. Even under tight situations, I knew I could give him the puck and he would always find the solutions.
“In the end, I think we had pretty good chemistry and worked well together.”
Even the babysitting gig came naturally.
“I was so thankful for that experience,” he said. “We had guys on the team that had won the Stanley Cup (Ben Smith and Andrew Desjardins, both with Chicago) or had played over 600 NHL games (Marcel Goc), so when you can meet their families and play with their kids, it’s fun.
“When they wanted to go out for dinner and asked us younger guys to babysit their kids, we did and it was a great experience.”
Seider shows so much maturity as a player that it’s easy to sometimes forget that he is still a teenager.
He credits his development to the coaching that he has received over the years.
“Every single coach I had did something for me,” he said. “You have to be lucky to be in the right spot, so I am thankful that I got great support not only in Mannheim but Erfurt, too. Now I’m in a great organization that I can trust, so I think everything has worked out well so far.”
Defense is his natural position, but he played some at the center position earlier in his career. “I think it’s good to play every position once and figure out what you do best,” he said. “I like playing defense because you get to see the whole ice. You’re the one who can make space for your teammates and make plays to create offense.
“I always wanted to be a goalie, so I was so excited when I tried it when I was younger, but my coach was like, ‘No chance. We need you out there.’”
Seider said he learned from watching some of the best.
“Growing up, I liked defensemen like Niklas Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer who helped change the game of hockey,” he said. “Nowadays, I look up to guys like Roman Josi and Zach Werenski. You always try to take something from each game and do it the next time on the ice.”
Although there was some speculation that he would return to play in Germany this season, Seider is clear that it was always his intention to play in North America.
“I think this is the next step in my career,” he said. “Now it’s just about getting ready for the NHL and I think the AHL presents the best opportunity. It’s the second-best league in the world. You have guys with a lot of experience as well as young guys who want to make the NHL, so it’s very competitive.”
Although he is praised for possessing good hockey instincts, he knows he still has much to learn. “Playing pro hockey last season helped me, but I know that every time I step into this building I will have to work hard and come to compete every day. That’s what (the AHL) is all about.”
There will be adjustments to be made along the way.
“I think the hardest thing is daily life,” he said. “It’s cooking dinner, cleaning the apartment, washing clothes, and all those kinds of tasks.”
It helps that his English is very good. His play on the ice, however, still needs some polishing.
“I think the biggest area for improvement is my overall play in the defensive zone,” he said. “I need to provide tight coverage and not be afraid to play tough against other teams. I just need to get more smoothness in my game. I want to be calm under pressure.”
Playing top minutes with the Griffins, he knows, will ultimately pay dividends at the next level.
“The more you play, the more comfortable you feel,” he said.