Jimmy Lodge is not the first Pittsburgher to make an impact for the Saginaw Spirit — he's merely the first who took a detour through the centre of the universe.
When he was 13, the reedy right-shot centre's parents, Dory and James Sr., moved him up from Downington, Pa., to Toronto to attend the PEAC school for elite athletes and play minor hockey while billeting with his Toronto Titans coach Tony Comparelli ("his family's like a second family to me," Lodge says). The investment paid off this season with the 6-foot-2, 165-pound pivot becoming a point-a-game scorer in Saginaw with hints of being a potential top-six forward in thev NHL.
"Toronto's kind of similar to an American city, I feel," says Lodge, who was 21st in NHL Central Scouting's final North American skaters ranking. "It was hard coming up alone and being away from my parents and not really seeing them. I got used to it, though. It was a relatively easy change aside from that.
"Some people think I have an accent when I go back," Lodge adds. "But I don't think I've got one."
Lodge tallied 28 goals and 67 points across 64 games for Saginaw, which has been enriched in recent seasons by two other 'Burghers. Former Spirit captain Brandon Saad is currently trying to help the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup final. Florida Panthers prospect Vince Trocheck earned a world junior gold medal with Team USA and won the OHL's top scorer and most outstanding player awards after starting the season in Saginaw and moving to the Plymouth Whalers in January.
Many draft watchers championed Saad and Trocheck before the 2011 draft, when they were selected 43rd and 64th overall. Saad's question mark was skating, whereas Trocheck's was size.
Lodge's draft slot might fall into that range between where his two former teammates were selected. He's shown top-six potential, but admits he needs to play more physically in order to have a fallback at the next level. Adding size and using it to create space will go a long way toward determining his station in the pro hockey food chain, especially since a lot of his offence has come on drives to the net.
"I just want to build off what I had last year," Lodge says of the upcoming season in Saginaw. "Just be more consistent and up my numbers."
1. Did it help your confidence when the Spirit moved Vince Trocheck and had the deadline and signalled you would be playing major minutes the rest of the way?
"Definitely, the second half was better than the first. Moving Trocheck opened up an opportunity for me on the first line. I played with some good linemates and the chemistry well."
2. How critical will it be for you to add some size over your next two seasons?
"I need to put on more muscle and strength, but it's also about being more physical on the ice. Finishing my checks and being stronger on the wall."
3. Which NHL player(s) do you study because he, or they, play a game similar to what you aspire to play at that level?
"[New Jersey Devils centre] Travis Zajac is a guy whom I look up to. He's a tall guy and eventually I think I could be around his size [listed at 6-3, 200 pounds]. I think I kind of play similar to him."
4. How exciting was it to play for Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka tournament last August?
"That was a really cool thing to represent my country. We didn't have the tournament that we wanted as a whole, but to play over there and see a different lifestyle was fun. It's Europe, it's different how people live. Older cities, different buildings. We went to Bratislava and stayed in some small towns. It was interesting. The beds were pretty small."
5. Does it stand out in your mind that you were part of USA Hockey's inaugural — never say first annual — All-America Prospects Game last September?
"Buffalo had a really nice setup and they treated as well. It's definitely cool to be in the first batch of people who did it, seeing all the top American kids."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.