The Peterborough Petes won't push for top pick Matt Spencer to play in their top four immediately. The first defenceman to see his name called in this spring's OHL priority selection draft is pushing himself hard enough as it is.
At the time, the Petes caused a stir by using their No. 3 overall pick on the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Spencer, who captained his Oakville Rangers midgets to both Ontario and OHL Cup titles, rather than exceptional-status blueliner Sean Day. Skipping ahead to the present, Spencer is bent on showing that Petes GM Mike Oke made the logical pick. For now, that means adapting to the faster pace of the major junior game.
"There's a couple aspects I need to work on," says Spencer, who counts former OHLer Alex Pietrangelo as a role model at the next level. "Just my overall quickness, not so much skating speed, but with how fast the game moves. I want to know that if I receive a pass, I can dish it off as fast as any of the 20-year-olds. I'm always trying to remind myself during summer drills to make everything as quick as possible and as hard as possible. The mental aspect is also important. It's tough playing that many games in a season, plus playoffs hopefully."
As a minor hockey player, Spencer was part of a group with the Oakville Rangers that went from struggling in the younger age groups to being a championship outfit during his minor-midget year. That foreshadows the situation he's entering with the Petes, who pulled out nearly all the stops in the second half of 2012-13 under Jody Hull only to miss the playoffs on the final day on the season. Being out of the playoffs for three years in a row has created some hunger for the proud organization. Spencer is eager to join a team with a long history and a yearning for better days.
"It's a real great organization in Peterborough," he says. "I know it's been around so long [as the OHL's oldest continuously operating franchse] and had a great amount of players come out of there. I know if I stay in Peterborough my whole career it will really benefit me and get to where I need to be for the NHL draft [in 2015.
"I know we've been going through a tough time recently and I just want to help us make the playoffs."
1. How would you describe your game to people who have not seen you play yet?
"I like to think of myself as a good, solid, puck-moving two-way defenceman, I like to make good lead pass out of the zone. I try to be physical but not overly physical. I'm not going to go out of my way to make a big hit or get a guy riled up but when the opportunity comes, I'll take it."
2. Which NHL player(s) do you study closely since he, or they, play a style close to what you hope to do at that level?
"Personally, I think the player I resemble the most is Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues. Hes just one of the most solid D in the league. He makes very few mistakes and the ones he makes are very minor. The eagerness and offensive talent that [the Los Angeles Kings'] Drew Doughty possesses, I like to play that way too. But mostly Alex Pietrangelo."
3. Outside of family, who is someone you credit for helping you get this far in the sport?
"It's tough. There have been so many people who have helped me out over the years. But I think mainly Duncan Harvey and whole Harvey family with the Oakville Rangers. Duncan was my coach for seven years and he took a last-place team in the province — back in the day in minor atom, that's what we were — and took them to winning two championships this year [the OMHA title and the OHL Cup tournament]. He's really turned things around, with his parents helping out, Dana Harvey having been a team manager for a number of years and Paul Harvey having coached."
4. If you could meet one person, living or dead, who could it be?
"Bobby Orr. He's one of the greatest of all time. Meeting him would be spectacular. One of my teammates, Kyle Capobianco, who was drafted in the first round by Sudbury, got to met him since he was thinking about having Bobby Orr as his agent, so he had Bobby Orr at his house for dinner. I thought that was pretty cool. Just to talk to him and get his insights on the game would be amazing."
5. Hockey players burn a lot of calories, so nutrition is extra important. So tell us, what was the last cheat food you ate?
"Oh geez. I recently took a road trip down to Pittsburgh with my family [parents John and Karen, older sister Sarah] before my sister goes off to college [at Brock University] and I go off to Peterborough. We didn't eat that healthy when we were down there. One day we went to this really good breakfast diner and I got some chocolate chip pancakes. I didn't really think those were too healthy but they were good, so I'll let that slide."
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.