Some wise counsel has given Aaron Haydon a leg up heading his NHl draft season.
The 6-foot-2¾, 197-pound defenceman spent the first half of his yearling season with the Niagara IceDogs playing in the same defence corps with two-time national junior defenceman Dougie Hamilton, a Boston Bruins first-rounder. So Haydon not only picked up extra minutes in the second half of the seaosn after Hamilton went pro, but he also soaked up some veteran wisdom.
"Without him, I don't think I would have done as well as I did," says Haydon, whom NHL Central Scouting classified as a B skater in its preliminary draft ranking. "He taught me everything. I watched him day in, day out and once he left, I jumped in. He would take me off to the side and tell me what I was doing wrong, what I was doing right. I'm glad he took an interest."
Haydon showed a strong physical element last season with Niagara, complementing it with above-average mobility for a potential shutdown defender. The Michigan native will have ample opportunity to play a big role for the very young IceDogs. Niagara is in a building season, with only two veterans left on the blueline, 19-year-olds captain Jesse Graham and Luke Mercer.
"If there's an opportunity to jump into the rush, I can," says Haydon, who had four goals and 10 points in 42 games as a rookie despite missing time with a broken jaw. "But overall, I try to shut guys down and be pretty physical."
"We're really young, but between the '95s and '94s, there's a lot of good leaders. Obviously, I'm going to be try to be a leader to our younger guys like [Aleksandar] Mikulovich and Vince Dunn."
Haydon had a strong summer, helping the United States win the silver medal at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament in August. He suffered a setback when he broke his foot in a freak off-ice occurrence early in training camp, but missed only two weeks. The IceDogs are willing to let Haydon play his way into peak form.
"He had a real unfortunate injury so he’s kind of playing catch-up right now with his conditioning and the pace of game," assistant coach David Bell says. "But there are not many defencemen that big who are that mobile. He’s got a big shot and his compete level is right up there.
"There’s huge upside. When he was healthy last year as a 16-year-old, he was a force on the blueline, as well as this summer at the under-18s."
1. What element of your game would you like show more of now that you're in your second season of junior?
"Definitely show my offensive skills. I don't think I did that as much last year. I'd like to jump up in the rush more."
2. Which NHL defencemen do you watch closely for pointers?
"I used to watch [retired Detroit Red Wings star Nicklas] Lidstrom a lot. I loved Scott Stevens. I like [Boston Bruins captain Zdeno] Chara's game."
3. Who comes to mind when you reflect on people who have helped you get this far in the sport?
"[Former IceDogs assistant coach] Jason Brooks last year. He really helped me a lot with studying video and he'd always take me aside to go over stuff. The veterans last year, [Ryan] Strome, Ritch [Brett Ritchie], Doug [Hamilton] and [Steven] Shipley, were all great examples. I learned a lot from them."
4. If hockey had never been invented, what sport do you think you might play
"I probably would have followed in my father's footsteps and played football. He [Paul Haydon] was a tight end for Cornell University."
5. What's the sense of anticipation about moving from the Jack Gatecliff Arena into the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines next season?
"The new building's going to be amazing. I love The Jack, it's good for a guy like me because the small size [of the ice surface] makes it easier to angle [puck carriers] off."
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.