Mon Feb 28 01:48pm EST
Buzzing The Net is profiling Canadian Hockey League players who are in their NHL draft season.
Saint John Sea Dogs star Zack Phillips' gift is making the hard work of finding space look easy.
The 18-year-old right wing, who is NHL Central Scouting's 12th-ranked domestic skater, might not be a viral virtuoso like his regular centre, Jonathan Huberdeau, or Slovak sensation Tomas Jurco. The staple items in Phillips' repertoire seem to be getting open to one-time a pass or burying a quick shot. He is fleet of foot and quick-witted, which is why he has a strong chance to be a NHL first-rounder.
Phillips has blossomed into a 35-goal scorer who is fifth in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in points, not far behind Huberdeau and top NHL draft prospect Sean Couturier on a per-game basis. That might owe to how the Fredericton, N.B., native needed to learn how to think his way around the rink earlier than most, since he was always on the small side.
In fact, Phillips was initially ticketed for the NCAA. He spent three years at prep schools in the Boston area. A growth spurt and a rapid improvement helped convince him to set sail for Saint John.
"At the time, I thought the college route might be better for me as a player and a person," the 6-foot-1, 181-pound Phillips says. "I was really small growing up, my second year down there I grew nine inches and started to get more notice for my hockey and thought this [the QMJHL] might be the better route."
Now he's an integral part of a team which is a Canadian Hockey League-best 51-6-1-2 and just became only the fourth QMJHL team to post successive 50-win seasons. Pro scouts will have to factor for how much Phillips' rise owes to being on a stacked team that, frankly, doesn't face stiff competition each night. Still, it says much for Phillips that he might post an 100-point season even though Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant usually rolls four lines.
"It was huge for me. I was an eight, eight-and-half-hour drive from home [Fredericton] for three years. I learned a lot about time management and how to be alone. It really helped me grow as a person."
2. In your mind, what would scouts say is the biggest thing you have to work on between now and when you'll be on the cusp of turning pro?
"Trying to adjust to the speed. It's similar to what it was like coming in here, coming out of prep school, I had to adjust to how fast it is in junior. Every level is step up in the speed and size of players."
3. What is the biggest asset you bring to a team?
"Just my hockey sense, ability to move the puck and see my teammates and make the people around me better.
"Playing with Jonathan [Huberdeau, the Sea Dogs top scorer] helps ... I've gotten used to him over the past two years. We read off each other well, we're good friends on and off the ice and hopefully we can continue that in the playoffs."
(Here are a couple of Huberdeau and Phillips' characteristic collaborations.)
4. Outside of family, who has had the most impact on you in hockey?
"Gardiner McDougall, the head coach at UNB [the University of New Brunswick, which is ranked No. 1 in Canadian Interuniversity Sport]. He's been there for me for a long time. I grew up going to every camp of his every summer, doing skills and drills. Now I even work at those camps in the summer."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"Favourite TV show is Friday Night Lights. I became a fan of it when I was in school and I was bored in the dorm and would need something to watch. For movie, I'd say Green Street Hooligans, it's a film about crazy soccer fans."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.