Keegan Iverson learned straight out of the gate as a major junior player how to be a winner. He was a part of the Portland Winterhawks’ championship season last year as a 16-year-old rookie.
“It was a great experience,” says Iverson, who’s ranked 64th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting Service. “That was my first major hockey championship and I was never on a team with that much talent before. We had guys like (Seth) Jones, (Ty) Rattie and (Derrick) Pouliot. That’s a lot of high NHL draft picks that know what it takes to win. It was good to see what it takes to be a winner right away in this league.”
Iverson feels the opportunity to play alongside top-notch talent such as Rattie, Winnipeg Jets second-rounder Nicolas Petan and Nashville Predators prospect Brendan Leipsic helped his development by seeing firsthand what it takes to garner attention from NHL scouts.
“To play with guys like that – I learned a lot,” says Iverson. “I think it was a good situation to be in. I learned a lot from watching their work ethic and how dedicated they are. And they would also give me pointers and help me out. I think it’s great for a rookie to be around players like Jones and Rattie and those guys. It showed me what it takes to get drafted.”
The 6-foot, 216-pound Iverson has significantly elevated his game this year. He’s excelled as a rugged centre who thrives in the tough areas of the ice, potting 20 goals and 35 points in 60 games along the way. This type of style of play has earned him a shutdown role on Portland's third line, but he has also seen time in their top six.
“I’m more confident this year,” says Iverson, who scored six goals and 10 points in 47 games last season. “Last year I was getting used to the league and wasn’t always playing. Now I know what to expect and I also have a bigger role this year and I worked on my shot a lot in the summer – that’s all paying off.”
Iverson’s boosted confidence has caught the attention of Winterhawks GM-head coach Mike Johnston.
“I’ve noticed a big difference in him this year from last year,” says Johnston. “He’s much more confident and has played really well on our third line. And at the start of the year he got some time on the first power play and did well with those opportunities.”
Originally, Iverson planned on going through the American college route. But even though he hails from St. Louis Park, MN., he dreamed of playing for the University of North Dakota instead of the University of Minnesota. The 17-year-old, however, changed his mind in favour of the major junior route during a hockey camp he took part in with the Winterhawks.
“A lot of people in Minnesota dream of playing college hockey and playing for the gophers,” says Iverson.” I originally thought I’d play college hockey, but I dreamed of playing for North Dakota just because I thought it would be a cool school to play for. But then I went to a Winterhawks camp and playing with some good players and NHL prospects I knew that this was the right fit for me. I wanted to make the jump from high school and I thought this was the best league to move on to.”
1. How would you describe yourself as a player?
“I’m a bigger power forward that plays hard. I think I’m a gritty player with a hard shot. I also try to intimidate players so that they know who the boss is out there.”
2. Whom do you model your game after?
“I look up to (Boston Bruins winger) Jarome Iginla. He’s a hard worker and a good guy to try to play like. He has a great shot and a lot of offensive talent.”
3. Who’s your favourite NHL team?
“I like the Minnesota Wild. I pretty much just like them because I grew up watching them in Minnesota.”
4. What’s your favourite movie or TV show?
“My favourite movie is Step Brothers. I like it because it’s a funny comedy with Will Farrell.”
5. What type of music do you like to listen to before a game?
“I like to listen to a lot of different stuff. But lately I’ve liked listening to Mike Stud. He’s a rapper that's pretty talented."
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen