I love this time of year. The weather is warm (finally!), the NHL playoffs are intensifying with each passing game, and the World Championships is giving players the opportunity to prolong their season. In fact, PRO Goaltending student Sebastian Dahm is playing for Team Denmark this year. If you don’t know about Sebastian’s journey as a professional goalie, please take the time to read his blog from last year. There are lessons in here I’m sure anyone can pick up, regardless of where you are in your development.
Thinking about Sebastian’s path inspired me to write today’s blog about three PRO Goaltending students who hope to hear their name called at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, which will be held on June 24th and 25th at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo.
All three of these athletes share one thing in common – they have not have an easy road to get to where they are today. Here’s some information about Colton Point, Evan Cormier, and Jeremy Helvig.
Carleton Place Jr. “A” Canadians, Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL)
6’4, 219 lbs
NHL Draft Prospect final ranking: 4th in North America
There are a few things that stand out about Colton. The one thing that many critics are quick to point out is that he probably never should have been in the NHL draft picture. Think about it: He plays Tier ll junior hockey in a 12 team league in Ottawa, Ontario. Why would a kid like this make the NHL draft list?
Here’s what most people don’t know: He has the skill, work ethic and has made the most out of every opportunity he has earned this season while playing for Carleton Place.
Every path is different
I remember the first time I watched Colton play during his OHL draft year for the North Bay Trappers Major Midget AAA (there was no Minor Midget in North Bay). This was a major disadvantage for Colton because he was not exposed to many OHL scouts during that year as he should have been. This altered his path because it’s quite possible he would have been selected higher in the OHL draft (he was drafted in the 14th round, 279th overall by the Erie Otters).
While watching him play in an afternoon game, I realized two things:
• He had NHL draft potential written all over him.
• There would be no quick fix regarding his path.
Leaving the rink that day, I knew he would be behind other goalies in his draft class… for the time being.
The path for goalies is different and it’s very rare that any are the same. For Colton, flying under the radar while playing for the Trappers was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.
Colton has a special ability to take information and process it quickly. There’s no secret, goalies who have this gift usually turn out. As a scout and coach, we always ask, “Can a goalie think the game and react?” It’s a hard skill to have, but Colton has it.
Colton is a big man. But, I never worried about his mobility. Carleton Place’s goalie coach Eli Rassi did a great job this season helping Colton improve his mobility, becoming a better East/West skater. With hard work and now a better understanding of what is required on and off the ice for a man his size, Colton took a potential weakness and turned it to one of his strengths. It’s not very hard to find a goalie with size. But, it is hard to find a goalie with size and NHL level footwork into that body. Colton is well on his way to developing this area of his game.
There’s a life lesson for everything and the one here is not to assume that because you’re leading the race in first after the first lap that’s where you will finish. Many athletes take their foot off the gas. But, athletes like Colton have the maturity to see the big picture. This will be his advantage from here on out. Going through what he has this year, especially at a young age, will set the barometer for this mental toughness for the rest of his career.
Saginaw Spirit, Ontario Hockey League (OHL)
6’3, 201 lbs
NHL Draft Prospect final ranking: 11th in North America
Evan has been a PRO Goaltending client since the age of 12. In fact, it’s a family affair with the Cormier’s as Evan’s older brother, Aaron, came through the system before him.
I remember Aaron pushing me to take a look at his brother when he was 11. He would say, “Michael, I’m telling you. You need to see Evan play.” I remember thinking, “Slow down, kid. He’s 11.” Well, as it turns out, boy was I ever lucky I didn’t wait any longer. Aaron was bang on.
Growth and maturity at an early age
Evan faced some adversity early on in his junior hockey career when he was traded from the North Bay Battalion to the Saginaw Spirit. At 17 years old, that can be a lot to take. You’re just getting used to living in a new city and bonding with new friends, and then all of a sudden, it’s over. A new opportunity presents itself and you either do something with it or you don’t. Evan did, in a very big way. Not only has he made the most out of the opportunity to play in Saginaw, he leveraged his experience to earn a Bronze Medal for Team Canada’s Under-18 team at the world championships in Switzerland.
Evan’s greatest skill set is how he tracks pucks. When I scout junior aged players, I always grade tracking as my number one priority. Being athletic is very important; however, the way you make visual connection on pucks before, during, and after a shot simply slows the game down. Evan has special tracking ability and I believe he’s one of the very best in this year’s draft class in this area of the position.
The other heavy hitting club in his bag is his ability to take high pressure situations and calm down his mind and his game. He’s a cool customer. You can tell when you watch him from the stands that it’s just another night on the ice. It’s another shift on the job. Some goalies over-think the position – Evan simply plays. That’s not necessarily something you can teach. He’s born with a unique gift to manage pressure on his own.
Kingston Frontenacs, Ontario Hockey League (OHL)
6’3, 195 lbs
NHL Draft Prospect final ranking: 15th in North America
During last year’s NHL draft, I ran into player representative Paul Capizzano from the MFIVE Sports Management Team. Out of curiosity, I asked his thoughts on Jeremy, who I knew he represented. We started talking and I recalled what I had seen from a Frontenacs’ practice earlier in the season.
I remember driving to Toronto after the practice and replaying what I saw from Jeremy: A goalie with size and strength. But, something didn’t add up. I recall watching Jeremy play during his OHL draft year and he was head and shoulders ahead of his peers. What had changed in a two year window?
Willingness to act and do
Paul and I agreed to bring Jeremy to our annual summer Development Camp in July, which has been the summer training home of many top junior and professional goalies for over 10 years.
The biggest adjustment Jeremy made last summer was remodeling his stance. At the end of the day, it was a small tweak that helped him become more natural in his movements.
From there, Jeremy learned to simplify his game. He’s a guy with great size, so we simply had to make him more economical in his movements and how he thought the game.
When our time concluded at the end of the summer, I remember having a very open and honest conversation with Jeremy about the realities he would be faced with during the 2015-16 season. I asked him, “Do you have the maturity and discipline to take these improvements and apply them every single day you’re on the ice?” It’s easy to work with goalie coaches in the summer and make small term gains which only later end up fading. But, it’s something entirely different to have the hockey IQ – the brains – and discipline to apply what you learned day in and day out. If you take an off day, then you’ve taken a step back in your development. It’s that simple. Because while you were taking an off day, someone else jumped two days ahead. I’ve written before about the window of opportunity – it’s your job to keep it open.
At the end of my meeting with Jeremy, I used a line I picked up while working with Jeff Twohey, who was with the Oshawa Generals at the time. While doing exit interviews and after listening to the player’s input, Jeff would say, “That’s great that you’re motivated and want to get better, but I’ve heard this a million times from players. Are you really willing to act and do? We’ll see.”
I asked Jeremy the same question that day. “Are you really willing to act and do?”
As we’ve seen this year, Jeremy has the ability to act. I view this determination as his greatest quality. One year ago, the majority of the scouting community passed over Jeremy and counted him out. One thing that is often hard to see from the stands is character. Jeremy’s back on the NHL radar and I believe he’s silenced his critics one save at a time. His intelligence, discipline, and character allowed him to act and do that.
Looking ahead to the 2016 NHL Draft
In conclusion, I’m very proud of what these three young men have accomplished so far on and off the ice. As I mentioned at the beginning, the road has not been easy for all three. For Colton, his path is somewhat unconventional through Tier ll hockey. For Evan, his demeanor allows him to do what he does best, just play the game. And for Jeremy, his ability to act and do has brought some much deserved attention back his way.
The road isn’t always going to be easy. The choice is simple: Put in the work and work harder than you ever have, especially when nobody is watching. It’s important to have faith in your ability and good things will happen with patience, time, and of course, some luck. We know there are many things that are inside and outside of our control. The progress in terms of skill and success from these three young men is impressive. There’s no doubting that. But, what’s most impressive to me is that they did the only thing that was within their control – Work and prove themselves. We’re excited to see what the future holds. It won’t be easy, but based on what they’ve demonstrated so far, the challenges and opportunities will be welcomed with open arms.