Belleville Bulls’ Brandon Saigeon ready to expand his game: Making The Jump

Brandon Saigeon is armed with good advice ahead of his first go-round with the Belleville Bulls.

The Bulls selected a potential offensive cornerstone in April when they used their No. 4 overall pick on Saigeon, an agile 6-foot-1, 185-pound centre from Grimsby, Ont.. As a native of the Niagara Escarpment with big ambitions, Saigeon has been fortunate enough to have had pros such as Nashville Predators defenceman Ryan Ellis.

"Ryan Ellis is one guy who's really helped me," says Saigeon, who shone in AAA midget with the Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs. "He just took me under his wing for this summer training. The same with Jeremy Williams. There's a few others but those are the two main guys who have really helped me the last little while.

"I try not to bug him [Ellis] too much but I'm always trying to get information from him, asking him about different situations, what the transition was like going from minor hockey to the OHL and from there to the NHL," Saigeon adds. "What's changed and what it takes to adapt to new situations.

The pivot got a good grounding in off-ice preparation during his early years, since his parents were each high-performance athletes. Saigeon's father, Brent, was an elite tennis player and his mother, Charlotta, swam for Canada at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Young Brandon learned how to be driven and focused.

"I try to take in as much as possible as I can from them because they were good students as well as good athletes," he says. "It kind of teaches you to manage your time and know there's a time and place for everything. They never really had to push me too hard because everybody in my family knew what I wanted to do, which was play in the NHL. They know what it takes, so they gave me the opportunities."

Saigeon was able to play minor midget for Hamilton while still bantam age in 2012-13. He and his family explored the possibility of applying to Hockey Canada for exceptional status. Ultimately, remaining in minor hockey was deemed best for his development. A year later, after having spent a few days at Hockey Canada's national under-18 camp, Saigeon is aware of how high a mountain he has yet to scale in the sport.

"You learn lots of little things at that camp but one thing I really learned is how to carry yourself as a Team Canada person and athlete," he says. "Just being around the Olympic training centre in Calgary is a really good experience ... you look on the walls at all the pictures of all the Team Canada teams that have won at all different levels, from Drew Doughty and Sidney Crosby, just all the best from across the board.

"You think you've done well in the past but you have to realize that this is just the beginning and you have a long way to go."

Saigeon is joining a Bulls team that finished 23-38-4-3 last season and missed the playoffs by a point after trading graduating star Brendan Gaunce to Erie in December. The prospect of playing on Yardmen Arena's Olympic-sized ice surface, the only such sheet in the 20-team OHL, has a certain appeal.

"I think I can really cater my game to that. If I play higher up in the Team Canada levels, that's what I'll be playing on. So it's kind of exciting to know that is where I'm going."

1. What is an element of your game that you really want to raise over the course of this season?

"Probably just my speed and explosiveness. In the summers when you get a chance to play with those older high-end guys it really teaches you how important it is to keep your speed and your power up. That goes from the gym to power skating to just working on those things in practice. That's probably the biggest thing because guys in the OHL are just so much bigger and stronger and faster. You just have to try to adjust."

2. Jarome Iginla and Mike Richards are your NHL role models; what is it specifically about them that you want to emulate?

"When you look at their careers they've both been through Hockey Canada and also been really good junior players who went on to be NHL stars. I think I have a similar game to them because I have a really offensive game but I have an all-around game like they do. They're good leaders. Iginla was the face of the franchise for the Flames and Richards was in Philadelphia when he was captain and he's doing the same in Los Angeles. They're good teammates. They're physical. They're also high-end goal scorers."

3. Aside from your parents (Brent and Charlotta) and grandparents (Pat and Wayne Saigeon), who is the one person you give the most credit for your success?

"Kelly Reed, who's my power skating coach. I work with him every single summer and try to meet up with him during the week. He's just helped me tremendously. I've been working with him since I was around eight years old. As a bit of bigger guy, I need to keep my speed up there and after working with him, I think that's one of my main attributes now."

4. Who is someone you look forward to playing against in the Ontario Hockey League?

"Actually, what I'm most looking forward to is having [Vancouver Canucks selection and 19-year-old Bulls defenceman] Jordan Subban on my team. I'm a big fan of P.K., his older brother with the Montreal Canadiens. For me, Jordan is the one guy I'm really looking forward to watching and learning from."

5. If it had not been hockey, what sport would it have been?

"Probably tennis. I've always enjoyed it. My dad was a high-level player who played for Canada. My grandfather is still playing regularly and he is in his seventies. It would probably be tennis."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.