Jackson Houck faced less than ideal circumstances while trying to build up his draft stock.
Working torpidly along the boards and in front of the net stands out more, at least to the less trained eyes, when it's part of a winning effort. The 6-foot, 185-pound Houck, who's known for having a high motor on the ice, had to find his motivation even though his Vancouver Giants organization was going through a rare rebuilding season. The North Vancouver native persevered, though, and scored 18 of his 23 goals after the midseason break.
"It was important to stay positive, any time you go through that something that's negative you want to try to find the positives in it," says Houck, who is NHL Central Scouting's 65th-ranked domestic skater. "The way we competed at the end of the season, I thought we were happy with that... I think I struggled a little bit at the start. I had a quick start with a lot of assists. My goal total wasn't where I wanted it to be. At Christmastime, I improved my game a little bit ... finished with 18 in the last 36 games. I wish I could have started with that."
Houck tallied 57 points across 69 games for the Giants, whose reward for bottoming out was drafting highly touted Tyler Benson first overall in the WHL bantam draft. Houck likely falls in the range of being a third- or fourth-rounder in the NHL draft for a team looking to stockpile potential depth forwards. That role agrees with Houck, whom as you might expect with a Vancouverite who plays for the Giants, is a big fan of alumnus and Boston Bruins wing Milan Lucic.
"Lucic came in this year to talk to us and gave a speech and picked up our spirits," Houck says. "He told us it doesn't matter if you get drafted, you just have to keep working."
Lucic was a third-rounder in 2006 who filled out his game across his final two junior campaigns. Houck is hoping his point production will spike next season.
"I think I'll have more of an offensive role. They didn't put that much pressure on me to score this year, second half of the season they kind of did. Offence will be a big part of it, along with being part of the growth of the team, maybe wearing a letter."
1. Aside from the obvious — anyone your age will say their skating, shooting and shot needs work — what is a specific area of your game that you know needs to improve over the next couple seasons?
"The first three steps with my skating, specifically the explosiveness. Once I get going, I'm all right, but getting up to that full-tilt speed is what I have to work on."
2. Whom in the NHL do you watch closely since their style of play is similar yours?
"I really like to watch [Milan] Lucic [of the Boston Bruins]. I like to watch him and [the Montreal Canadiens' Brendan] Gallagher because Gallagher was my role model last year when he was with the Giants and I was a 16-year-old. Watching Lucic and Gallagher, knowing where they started [with the Giants] and seeing where there are now, tells you what's possible. Lucic, he's a fun player to watch, he's physical. Gallagher, he works his bag off."
3. Outside of family, whom has had the greatest influence on your growth as a hockey player?
"My bantam coach, Jim Dinwoodie, has really helped me. For two years he was my coach with the North Shore Winter Club and he's followed me through major midget and the Western league. I call him whenever I get the chance, laugh and joke around with him. It's good to hear from him. He coached me for two years and he coached my brother for two years."
4. Being from North Van, is it the mountains or the ocean for you?
"I don't mind a little bit of both. I'm locked in between the two there. I kind of like the water more."
5. Other than your own team, who has the sharpest jersey in the Dub?
"I don't mind the Kelowna Rockets' jerseys even though they are our rival with Kamloops. I like the black one, that's a pretty nice jersey."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.