Being on a contender can rub off on a young player who is making his case to be selected by a NHL team in the entry draft. Niagara IceDogs right wing Joel Wigle, whose team is considered the favourite to win its first J. Ross Robertson Cup, has reason to believe that could be the case for him this summer.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Wigle has filled an unsung yet necessary niche through the first two playoff rounds for the IceDogs. As a second-year player on a team with 12 NHL draft picks, a lead role can be a little harder t come by. However, his work helming the IceDogs' energy line with Myles Doan and Carter Verhaeghe helped him rise to 113th in NHL Central Scouting's final North American ranking after being listed 182nd in January.
"With our deep team, we just need some toughness sometimes and some grit," says Wigle, a native of Brantford, Ont. "That's that's what the fourth line brings, I think I've been able to do that.
"I'm like a power forward. I have a good shot, I utilize my speed, I can bring toughness."
Wigle had 12 goals and 20 points across 63 games in the regular season. He has yet to record a point through 10 playoff games but IceDogs coach-GM Marty Williamson has praised his willingness to be a complementary player.
"We think a lot of Joel and we think he's going to be an impact player in this league," Williamson recently told the St. Catharines Standard. "He's kind of behind a lot of talent on this team and doesn't get the exposure the other guys have."
Being on a top team can sometimes create an artificial rise in a player's draft stock since his club is viewed more frequently than some of the also-rans. That being said, Wigle feels he's gained a lot from watching the IceDogs' older players and doing battle drills with drafted defenceman such as first-rounders Dougie Hamilton and Jamie Oleksiak. Not to mention getting tutoring from the likes of Ryan Strome, last summer's No. 5 overall pick.
"Every day at practice, you get to see what guys like [world junior forwards] Ryan Strome and Freddie Hamilton can do with the puck," Wigle says. "You can learn a lot of things from them. Obviously, we have a lot of NHL draft picks on our team and you can learn a lot from watching how they handle the playoff situation. Next year, when many of those guys will be gone, hopefully guys like myself can step up to fill those roles."
1. Apart from the obvious such as improving skating and building strength, what areas of the game do you need to improve in the most before you can turn pro?
"I need to add a few more skills to my set, work on having better hands, a better shot. To be a pro, I think you kind of have to become good at everything. For a lot of people, especially big power forwards, skating is a big part of their game to keep up with other people.
"Any good player should be adding to his toolbox all the time, like what kind of moves they have. Just trying different things."
2. Hockey is fairly all-consuming, so what are some things you do when you need to get your mind off the game for a little while?
"I play guitar a lot. Country music and stuff. When I'm back home I'll just catch up with my friends and see what they're doing that's non-hockey related. I'm lucky that I get to play hockey all year round, but it's good to come home and talk to the other kids my age. That kind of gets me away from it.
"I started with guitar about five years ago. I took lessons at school for about four years but had to give it up when I decided to pursue hockey. I still pick it up once in a while. I can teach myself stuff. I like Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton a lot. Those are good guys."
3. If there was one player not in the OHL — maybe someone out west or down east in the QMJHL — you could face, whom would it be?
"From out West, I haven't seen some of these defenceman who are rated fairly high [for the NHL entry draft] like Mathew Dumba [of the Red Deer Rebels] and [the Edmonton Oil Kings'] Griffin Reinhart. They'd be fun guys to play against."
4. Outside of your family, who's had the greatest influence on you as you've pursued a hockey career?
"I have a coach from major bantam and minor midget I still keep in touch with, Terry Penner. He's a great guy. He taught me a lot of little things that helped me step up to the next level and made the transition from minor midget [with the Brantford 99ers] to the OHL a lot easier."
5. Hockey players have to be really strict with their nutrition — so tell us, what's your guilty pleasure drink or food?
"After like a good weekend, I like to have a Pepsi with my dinner. One can of Pepsi's good to have."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.