It's a fool's game to try and spot an NHL-calibre player before he's reached his teens.
So says former NHLer Carey Wilson of Winnipeg.
Wilson says he's come across one exception to that rule while coaching and running camps in the Winnipeg minor system, and it wasn't his own son, Colin, drafted in the first round last year.
"Jonathan Toews," Wilson said.
"When I first started following him at nine years of age, I could see it already. The biggest thing is he can think the game. It's a skill you cannot teach. That's what makes good hockey players great hockey players."
Wilson sees similar qualities in Michael St. Croix, playing in the Manitoba AAA Midget League.
But parents and coaches shouldn't go looking for it in their nine- or 10-year olds, he said.
"The key development areas are into your teens," Wilson said.
"You can see kids, five and six, that just look like Gretzkys, even at 11 and 12. But even that's going to change. The years 14 to 19, you can pick out who can raise their game to the next level and be a professional hockey player. Until then, you've got to let nature take its course."