Travis Dermott is proof positive of how good things happen to junior teams that do their homework for the later rounds of the OHL priority selection draft, and how the round where a player is chosen is irrelevant.
While Connor McDavid has the most buzz on the Otters as the playoffs unfold and the NHL draft draws nearer, the phenom's former minor hockey and lacrosse pal is turning heads with his qualities as a puck-moving defenceman. During these playoffs, Dermott is showing on a nightly basis that he has the speed, touch and defensive savvy to become a potential NHL draft steal.
Somewhat like, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Connor Brown, of course, who went from 11th-rounder out of minor midget to OHL player of the year in 2014 with Erie, Dermott was also picked up later. The Newmarket, Ont., native was a ninth-rounder in the 2012 priority selection.
"I broke the same collarbone that year, but in two different spots," explains Dermott, a 5-foot-11¼, 197-pounder who is ranked No. 47 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. "I came into that year thinking I might get drafted high. When I came back I wasn't playing too well and my confidence was not very high. After that draft, I talked about it with my agent and he really worked on me to understand, it doesn't matter which round you get drafted, once you're taken it's all the same. Then I had my first year in junior [with the OJHL's Newmarket Hurricanes] and it's all worked out."
Dermott, who typically works from the centre point as the lone defenceman deployed on Erie's first power play that also features McDavid and Dylan Strome, tallied 45 points across 61 regular-season games. He's followed up with 12 in 14 playoff contests. Erie leads the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds 3-2 entering the potential series decider (7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT, Sportsnet/Sportsnet 360).
"I've been getting a lot more ice time while [Kurtis] MacDermid's been suspended," says Dermott, who credits Otters assistant Jay McKee, a long-time NHL defenceman, with helping him fine-tune his play. "That's helped a lot ...This year I've really simplified my game. In the past I sometimes tried to do too much and would end up turning pucks over. What helped with that is that coaches would just talk to me about situations and what to expect and gradually it changed."
Playoff runs are pretty familiar for Dermott, who's been to at least the league semifinal in all three of his junior seasons with Newmarket and Erie. As a child, he spent several seasons playing on York-Simcoe Express minor hockey teams with McDavid and Calgary Flames rookie Sam Bennett, a Kingston Frontenacs product.
"Even when we that young, he would do things like score goals between his legs," Dermott says of McDavid. "You could see it."
1. Which NHL defenceman do you really study closely — there's probably something to learn from all of them, but who is someone you perhaps model your game after?
"I tend to watch Morgan Rielly [of the Toronto Maple Leafs]. I sort of have the same style of play. Like to move the puck. Like to get into the offensive play, still try to make sure I do everything right defensively."
2. What's important to know about the success you're enjoying this season?
"I've just had a lot of guys help me throughtout the year. Kurtis MacDermid has been great for me, giving me lots of advice and, on the ice, staying back when I go up in the play. Recently I've been with Darren Raddysh and he's been really good to play with too. He plays a similar kind of game but is a little more offensive."
3. What is your favourite sport than hockey?
"Lacrosse. I played it for a long time. I even played with McDavid for a while back in Newmarket. We were lacrosse and hockey buddies."
4. What is your favourite cheat food?
"My dad [Jim Dermott] makes really good homemade burgers, they're hard to pass up."
5. With your birthday being Dec. 22, did you ever get those dreaded 'combo' gifts?
"Mostly from relatives, like in my extended family. I would always harp on my parents not to do that."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.