To say Red Deer Rebels centre Conner Bleackley is on pace for a breakout season would be an understatement. Throughout his first 14 games this year, he has already topped the 18 points he scored in his 66-game rookie season last year with eight goals and 19 points.
Although Bleackley expected to assert himself as a star in the Dub this year, he couldn’t have predicted in the offeseason that he would best his previous season’s point total before Halloween.
“I expected to have a big year this year, but it’s a bit of surprise to be where I am in points,” says Bleackley. “I wanted to come into this year and prove myself. I’m more confident this year and I think points come with that. I also was cut by the U-18 team last year and that has given me some extra motivation.”
Bleackley credits his hot start to the year to the time he put in last offseason in training and conditioning.
“I really took my conditioning seriously in the summer,” he says. “I worked out in Calgary with Crash Conditioning and that really helped. I did some skating and off-ice workouts. It helped me get leaner and quicker. I also got a nutrition plan to eat healthy.”
The High River, Alta., native aims to put his name on the score sheet in every game he suits up in; however, unlike last year, he hasn’t set any personal goals for points as a sophomore.
“I set a goal last year and didn't reach it, so I decided not to set any goals this year for numbers,” says Bleackley. “I don’t want to focus on points, just going out and playing hard every night. I try to score a point every game, but I’m just focusing on helping my team win games.”
The 6-foot-1, 196-pounder’s main goal when he steps out onto the ice is to be tough to play against, much like his new teammate, Winnipeg Jets second-rounder Lukas Sutter.
“I want guys to hate to play against me,” says Bleackley. “Lukas is a good example of someone I try to play like. He gets under guys’ skin and is also a guy that plays a big role in the offensive zone. And he has went through NHL camps, so he knows what it takes to get to the next level. It's good to have him to lean on for advice and just see how he does things out there."
Bleackley’s impressive stats and elite talent has him pegged quite high on the majority of scouts’ lists. He is ranked a B-list prospect in NHL Central Scouting Service’s preliminary ranking. In addition, International Scouting Services, who describe him as a ‘versatile centre with high-end upside in all situations', listed him 15th overall in their 2014 NHL draft ranking.
“I try not to pay attention to those draft lists, but it’s hard not to,” says Bleackley. “It’s always nice to get noticed. I just take it for what it’s worth, though."
1. How would you describe yourself as a player?
“I try to be a gritty forward. I try to play like a power-forward. I take care of things in my own end and am good on the draw. I want to be a guy that can be used in every situation on the ice.”
2. Do you model your game after a player in the NHL?
“I like how (Boston Bruins centre) David Krejci plays. He’s good on the draw and plays well at both ends. He’s someone I’d like to play like.”
3. Who is your favourite NHL team?
“I like the Colorado Avalanche. I started cheering for them when I was five or six. They won the Stanley Cup in 2001 and I really looked up to Joe Sakic - he’s my favourite player of all time.”
4. What type of music do you like to listen to before a game?
“I’m into the electronic stuff. I think it gets the guys pumped up and excited for a game. And besides that, I like a lot of different stuff like modern pop and a lot of the hits.”
5. What’s your favourite movie and television show?
“I don’t know if I have a favourite movie. I like anything with Will Farrell in it. Prison Break is my favourite TV show of all time. I like it because it’s exciting and it keeps you wanting to watch more.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen