Kyle Jenkins is grateful for some baptism by fire.
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds foresee the rookie defenceman becoming their prime puck-mover and power-play quarterback over the coming seasons. In the here and now, Jenkins, at a reedy 6-foot-1 and 166 pounds, has shown well as a newcomer for the 'Hounds, who are off to a maybe not that surprising start with 9-of-12 possible points from their first half-dozen games. Jenkins, listed as a C skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary list, has earned top-four minutes on coach Sheldon Keefe's back line, while showing he can elude forecheckers and initiate the counter-attack.
Jenkins also knows that while his youthfulness might make for some long nights against veteran OHL forwards; the 'Hound held him out of two games last weekend while giving more time to fellow youngsters Kevin Spinozzi and Colton White. The proof will be in how he moves on to each new challenge.
"The forwards forecheck hard and they're a lot bigger," says the Brampton, Ont., native, who had 29 points in 46 games with the Junior A Oakville Blades as a 16-year-old. "So it's going to be a big adjustment to make plays with guys bearing down on you who are 20, 30 pounds heavier. But if you're quick enough, you can slide off their hits.
"I know there's a lot of work to be done and it's going to be up and down during the season. But I'm feeling pretty strong and hopefully I can keep it going."
Jenkins' ability to move the puck up to 'Hounds attackers such as fellow 17-year-old Jared McCann and Carolina Hurricanes prospect Sergey Tolchinsky makes him a big asset.
"What we want out of our defence, in order to play a puck-possession style, is to make very good exits out of the zone," says 'Hounds GM Kyle Dubas. "Kyle moves the puck to our forwards and his D partner in positions where they can make a play with it. He's like a quarterback in that way where he takes a little bit off it, puts the puck in a good spot, lets guys skate into it.
"He's on our power play ... he's over 6 feet, he's got to continue to put on his weight but his lateral movement and ability to find lanes with the puck, makes him a guy who will certainly be on the minds of a lot of NHL teams as the season goes along."
Dubas cautions that the nature of Jenkins' role might make any youthful mistakes more glaring, which is something to keep in mind while following the rookie's prograss.
"I'm sure he's going to have his bumps, but it's going to happen when you have the puck a lot."
Jenkins got a taste of the OHL as a late-season fill-in last March, making his debut vs. the eventual league champion London Knights. He got his first point in the season opener on Sept. 21 vs. Sudbury; through four games in Soo silks, he's plus-2 and has taken only one minor penalty despite being physically outsized. That latter factor should be mitigate as Jenkins continues to mature physically, which will also help him become more of a presence on the power play.
"I do want to improve my shot," he says. "I need to get pucks to the net quicker and hopefully get some goals."
1. Being from the Toronto area, how much did you look at the exposure other Greyhounds such as Darnell Nurse and now Jared McCann have received while playing up north in the Soo?
"Playing in an environment where hockey is so big in the town, I think it really helps with developing your game and having a passion for playing. Overall, it was a good move for me to go to the Soo."
2. Which NHL defenceman is your role model?
"I loved watching Nicklas Lidstrom a couple years back. I really looked up to him: how he made plays and how poised he was with the puck. Now I'd say [Alex] Pietrangelo [of the St. Louis Blues]. Pretty similar defenceman."
3. Outside of family, who is one person who deserves a lot of credit for helping you advance to this point?
"I would probably say my assistant coach, my D coach whom I had for the past four years, Matt Craig. He's developed me over the years. He really helped the D corps we had in minor hockey [with the Misssisauga Rebels]."
4. What sport could you see yourself playing if hockey did not exist — and please don't answer golf?
"I'll say volleyball. I played high school volleyball and I was pretty good at it."
5. Favourite TV show and/or movie?
"Dexter for TV show. Movie? Probably Miracle."
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.