Kelly Summers' long-term thinking is putting Carleton Place and his Ottawa Valley hometown of Golden Lake on the hockey map.
Possessed of a big-time shot and innate hockey sense, the redheaded rearguard from the Ottawa Valley has helped the Carleton Place Canadians take the Central Canada Hockey League by storm, racking up a record 54 wins and 110 points across 62 games. Summers, who's committed to play next season at Clarkson University where his cousin Mike Sullivan was a standout in the mid-2000s, averaged more than a point per game during the regular season. He's built off that to help the fifth-year Canadians franchise make its first CCHL final. On Tuesday, NHL Central Scouting ranked Summers No. 73 on its final ranking of North American skaters.
"Being put on the first [NHL Central Scouting] list [in January] was just a big surprise, then a couple days ago, I checked it out and I was 73rd," says Summers, who was No. 155 on the CSS list on the midterm before more and more scouts began making a point to check out Canadians' games. "It's a good honour ... It was [a sense of] finally just knowing it could come true, As a kid you always think about it and it just seems out of reach. Now, just making the list, it seems possible to make it there."
Central Scouting has only two Canadian Junior A players ranked above Summers, who tallied 17 goals and 60 points over 56 games. Those are exceptional numbers for any defender, let alone one who's only 17 years old.
"He's a special player — he'll be a top-four guy in the NHL at some point for sure," Canadians coach Jason Clarke says. "Kelly's work ethic and Kelly's attention to detail and just overall maturity level has really just come to fruition ever since Christmastime. He's really taken the next step to becoming an elite player.
"I think the big thing for Kelly is it's just him getting bigger, stronger, faster, His talent that he has, his hockey sense is just a God-given talent and he just has to move forward with some real hard work."
Summers was a sixth-round priority selection choice of the OHL's Oshawa Generals in 2012 after playing his minor hockey with the Ottawa Valley Titans (his parents, Jerry and Cathy, who run an auto dealership and a lumber business up in Golden Lake, regularly taxied Kelly 90 minutes to practices). From the outset, Summers was intent on the NCAA. Playing 90 minutes from home in Carleton Place (pop. 9,500) has been a good way to spread his wings.
"My parents can make it down to every game and I have cousins come from all over," says Summers, who was CCHL rookie of the year in 2012-13. "It's nice, me being from a small town, that it's not right in Ottawa or a bigger city."
Summers, listed at 6-foot-1 and 168 pounds, is slated to jump join the Clarkson Golden Knights next season at age 18. While he appreciates the praise he's getting for his skills, he is attuned to the reality he'll have to improve his tempo on the ice and his strength. That's part of why he sees the more compact, weekend-based college hockey schedule as a good fit.
"My acceleration and quick feet, if I can just keep working on that it's going to put me in a good place for next year at Clarkson," he says. "Just being there will give me a lot of time to work in the gym."
Meantime, there is the matter of a championship series. The Smiths Falls-Carleton Place showdown, which begins Sunday, is pretty heady stuff for a Canadians organization which has managed to assemble a powerhouse just a half-decade after joining the CCHL. The series might also satisfy a hockey craving in the national capital region, where the NHL, OHL and QMJHL teams could all be done for the spring by the end of this weekend.
"It's good to know you're going to remembered by the fans as one of the first teams to bring the organization success," Kelly Summers says. "We're playing a big rival in the Smiths Falls Bears. The towns are 15 minutes apart so we know it's going to be a packed barn and it's going to be a lot of fun."
1. Earlier you touched you why you see the NCAA as the best place to develop. What fixed that notion in your mind?
"When I started in Junior A, right away I saw how much faster it was than minor hockey. From just talking to people and knowing how much faster I'd need to get, I knew I'd need a couple more years of development."
2. You have to be yourself, but what NHL defenceman do you study closely because you feel your game is similar?
"Maybe like [the Chicago Blackhawks'] Duncan Keith. An offensive, puck-moving defenceman, but my footwork is a ways away from that."
3. How has your coach, Jason Clarke, helped you grow as a player?
"He pushed me hard in practice, definitely a great coach. I came in as a 16-year-old and I was getting power-play ice time right away. He gave me a lot of confidence. Him believing in me just made me more confident."
4. Outside of immediate family, who's one person you really credit for your success to date?
"Probably my cousin, Mike Sullivan, who went to Clarkson and got drafted [in 2003 by the Los Angeles Kings]. When I was younger he was the big icon in our family for hockey, the kid's who's always going places. We used to call him 'Golden Child.' I wanted to be like him, for sure."
5. Where is your favourite road rink in the CCHL?
"Probably Pembroke. It's a road game for our team but it always feels like I'm playing at home."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.