January 18, 2011
These kids must know their rolesFor prosepcts, making the NHL depends on adapting
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Boone Jenner has 38 points in 38 games for the Oshawa Generals, a clip that has helped make him one of the top-40 Canadian Hockey League prospects for the National Hockey League entry draft in June.
But Jenner, a 6-foot-1, 194-pound centre from Dorchester, Ont., knows that producing points probably won’t be what gets him to the NHL, if he makes it.
“I’m aware of that,” Jenner, ranked No. 18 in North America by NHL central scouting in its midterm rankings, said, “and I’ll make any sacrifice to make it in the NHL. Getting two shifts or 20 shifts a game would be special. I know I can be a role guy.”
Jenner and 39 other prospects will be on the ice at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night in the annual top prospects game, a showcase for the country’s high-end draft hopefuls. Some such as Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who are ranked second and third respectively in North America behind the No. 1-ranked Gabriel Landeskog (who is injured and won’t play), will be among the first players drafted in June and should have successful careers in the NHL.
For players such as Jenner, an ascension to the NHL probably won’t come as easily.
And once they get there, they likely will have to make adjustments in their game. A couple of smart performers on Canada’s team in Buffalo at the world junior, forwards Cody Eakin and Casey Cizikas, are regular scorers with their junior teams. At the international level, Eakin, a Washington Capitals pick, and Cizikas, whose rights are owned by the New York Islanders, demonstrated an ability to play smart defensive hockey.
One example of a player who has made it to the NHL, and is doing more than just surviving, is Maple Leafs forward Tim Brent. Once a smart player with Toronto St. Michael’s of the Ontario Hockey League, Brent averaged more than a point a game in his last two years of junior. He was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2002 and when he was not signed by the Ducks, was drafted by them again in 2004. Brent played 15 games for the Ducks, one for the Pittsburgh Penguins and two for the Chicago Blackhawks before he signed with the Leafs in 2009.
Different circumstances often form barriers that can’t be busted through. Brent spent time with three organizations that were deep and talented, either arriving not long after or just before they won Stanley Cups.
After re-inventing himself as a checking forward, Brent has played in all but one of the Leafs’ 44 games this season.
“I was an offensive guy, but to break into the NHL, I found myself in a checking role,” Brent said. “It’s something I knew coming into training camp (last fall) and I prepared myself all summer long — I was going to be the best I could be at stopping the other team’s best players. If that got me a job, great, I was going to give it everything I have. You have to be able to change roles and be versatile.”
Projecting the kind of impact a player might have in the NHL is among the biggest challenges for scouts. They know how these kids perform in their age group. But what about playing against 30-year-old men in the NHL?
“There are three natural laws of maturity — physical, mental and emotional,” former Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button, now an analyst with the NHL Network, said. “And there is nothing that can speed it up. Everybody matures at different rates, and people better understand that.”
Jenner, importantly, has started making a positive impression on scouts.
“He’s the kind of guy you watch and you see right away how he plays with those around him,” NHL central scouting director E.J. McGuire said. “It’s tapping guys on the pads and saying: ‘Hey, guys, follow me.’ That’s important.”