For Matt Spencer, it's a matter of being better than the sum of his parts.
The Peterborough Petes defenceman, as a No. 3 overall choice out of midget hockey, came into the Ontario Hockey League bearing high expectations. That meant the bar was set high for him this season with the Petes. Spencer, a robust 6-foot-1½ and 201 pounds, has shown he has next-level tools; however, playing for a team that's struggled defensively has sparked questions about his overall awareness on the ice.
"It's a little tough," Spencer, who is NHL Central Scouting's No. 51-ranked domestic skater, says of building up that high hockey IQ. "That's a skill that takes a little more time, But you get to know players in the league, you get to know the bounces in different arenas, how teams respond to your systems. But, overall, it just takes practice and execution. That's been something we've struggled with a bit
"It's been a real up and down kind of scenario in Peterborough," adds Spencer, whose Petes have knocked off two division leaders, the Erie Otters and Oshawa Generals, over the past week. "I think we're on the right path and we're coming together as a team really well after the deadline and the moves."
The Petes parted with captain Connor Boland and Anaheim Ducks first-rounder Nick Ritchie in a deadline deal with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds three weeks ago. Spencer, who has five goals and 25 points over 44 games, will get ample ice time over the final third of the season. With Boland now in the Soo, the Oakville, Ont., native is part of a rather young defence corps that includes two NHL-drafted 18-year-olds (Dominik Masin and Kyle Jenkins) and two other 17-year-olds (Cameron Lizotte and Artem Vladimirov).
A strong finish could help Spencer cement his status as a late first or second-round NHL pick.
"The whole year has been pretty good in terms of my personal development," Spencer says. "I'm just trying to keep things simple for the most part and contribute on offence when I can
1. What areas of the game are you hoping to show improvement in over the 30 or so games left in the season?
"I'd just say, strong defensive play and being better able to make the first pass out of my zone. I know that's something I've been struggling with a little bit. That's the main thing."
2. Which NHL defenceman do you watch closely?
"I'd say a player like Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues. He's a really solid defenceman in all three zones. He's someone who's not overly offensive, but definitely contributes on the offensive side."
3. Who has been the toughest forward that you have faced in the OHL?
"I would definitely say [top NHL draft prospect] Connor McDavid. He's exceptional and I don't think it needs to be explained why. Also, a real fast offensive guy like Josh Ho-Sang [of the Niagara IceDogs], he's tough to play against as well and I get to see him a bit more throughout the year [after being traded from Windsor in the Western Conference]."
4. How does a defenceman adjust to the square corners in the Memorial Centre?
"I've been telling the guys I love it now. I have that advantage when other teams come in because I've been able to practise there so many times. I definitely did not figure it out the first few times."
5. Where is your favourite road rink?
"In terms of atmosphere, I'd probably say Erie because they have such a great fanbase, it's really loud. Overall, rink and just dynamics, I'd say Mississauga. I know it's not very loud there and they don't get a heck of a lot of fans, but there's something about that place. I guess it's because we [his Oakville Rangers midget AAA team] won the OHL Cup."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.