At the end of June, right before the NHL Entry Draft, I wrote a story about Eustace King, agent for O2K Worldwide Management Group. Ever since the draft ended, King has been in a great mood, knowing that many of his clients are now the property of NHL teams.
Five of King’s clients were drafted, including three in the first two rounds.
- Beau Bennett was drafted 20th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins
- Emerson Etem was drafted 29th overall by the Anaheim Ducks
- Devante Smith-Pelley 42nd overall by the Anaheim Ducks
- Austin Levi was drafted 85th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes
- Sebastian Owuya was taken 169th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers
King is impressed by his clients’ desire to succeed and their passion for the game. But more importantly, he is impressed by his agency’s growth since they began the business six years ago.
“The NHL was going through a difficult time when we started pre-lockout,” King explained. “We started in June and July before the lockout. When you create a new agency, there has to be changes in the business and the industry in order for you to present what you want to present. We built the company that we thought was built on one major platform: player development. We wanted to put together a unique team and have a unique platform.”
O2K was created as an agency that did more than represent their players; rather, the agents cared deeply for them and helped them develop into professional athletes. The colleagues that put the agency together wanted to learn from Steve Reich, who represented Mario Lemieux and Chris Chelios at the time. When Lemieux decided to become a part owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Reich decided to pursue other opportunities to prevent a conflict of interest from arising by representing a player-owner. The new opportunity was influencing a group of young, rising agents to create this incredible agency.
Six years later, the group is becoming more popular in the hockey world and their clients include NHLer T.J. Oshie, Raffi Torres, Wayne Simmonds and future NHLers such as Emerson Etem.
Representing these high-tiered clients is not stress-free work, though. Sitting through the draft and watching your client fall down the board is arguably one of the most painful things an agent must deal with. But King knew that going into this year’s experience and was sure to address it with his kids.
“The one thing that we had talked about with all our athletes going into the draft is that you cannot control this. You can’t predict what teams are going to do,” said King. “I told Emerson [Etem], ‘You’re projected eighth, but I’ve heard things and Beau [Bennett] may go ahead of you.’ We talked about those things before the things. I sat down with Beau and Emerson. We said, ‘Let’s make sure this draft is a positive experience and that we’re celebrating that you’re getting drafted. You’re going to have a great opportunity to have access and resources with an NHL team.’”
King also understands the uniqueness and honor of being one of the first African-American agents in the business. He also knows how important it is to represent those clients that are minorities.
“If you look at our group, one of the areas that we wanted to make sure we recruited was that some of them have to be black,” said King. “We have Emerson Etem, Devante Smith-Pelley, Austin Levi and Sebastian Owuya who were all minority players drafted this year.
“The biggest barrier for young, minority players is the cost of the game. And the NHL, through ‘Hockey For Everyone’ and ‘NHL Diversity’ – they are instrumental in helping grow the game.”
Lastly, King credits his success and the mindset of his agency to his mentor, Willie O’Ree (the first black player to play in the NHL).
“He’s helped teach me how to help these young kids enjoy hockey,” explained King. “I think that there is a unique culture among the minority players that you accomplished something unique, but there’s still a lot of hard work to do. At the end of the day, this is just one small page in your big book and you have to continue to act and move this thing along. Willie O’Ree…only wanted to be known as a hockey player. He knew he was something unique, being a black player, but the way he handled things is such a first-class way. My players meet him and say, ‘Wow, if I can act like him…’”
King makes sure that the lessons and values utilized by O’Ree are transferred to his players.
“These young kids, I make sure that everyone has to help each other, whether they’re black players, white players or whatever. Tyler Ennis was talking to Wayne Simmonds and TJ Oshie when they were being drafted with advice. That’s why we call this the O2K family, because we’re all there for each other.”
O2K envisions each relationship as an agreement not only between a business and an athlete, but as a long-term mutually fulfilling partnership. They treat their clients as partners, engaging them throughout the process of developing their careers and life plans. Experience, talent, dedication, work ethic and passion are the elements that make each athlete unique. These are the same elements that form the foundation of O2K.
Visit the O2K website at http://www.o2kmanagement.com