With the Windsor Spitfires up against it in the playoff chase, their championship years might seem as much like a burden as a bar to clear. Keep in mind, though, those years were critical for in the growth of Kerby Rychel, who is a good bet to be the franchise's first NHL first-round pick since Taylor Hall and Cam Fowler in 2010.
Rychel, as the eldest son of Spitfires general manager and vice-president Warren Rychel, often skated with Windsor players in those years while he was playing minor hockey for the Detroit Belle Tire club. What the younger Rychel absorbed was invaluable.
"It was huge, being around all those great players — Taylor Hall, Ryan Ellis, Zack Kassian," says the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Rychel, an all-around left wing who is NHL Central Scouting's 18th-ranked North American skater. "Just seeing how they prepared for games and how they practised was something you can definitely take and apply to your own game."
Rychel, who turned 18 in October, likely falls in the range of being a safe, relatively low-risk mid-first round pick. The left wing has a strong skating stride and seems able to get good shots away both quickly and in tight quarters, while also being able to take pucks to the net when necessary. Windsor's collective challenges offensively were probably a drag on Rychel's stats early in the first half. However, he was been flourishing since a reunion with Boston Bruins prospect Alex Khokhlachev, who returned from the KHL following the world junior championship.
Entering tonight's nationally televised Sarnia Sting-Spitfires showdown (7 p.m. ET, Sportsnet), Rychel is on a roll with 26 points in 12 games. His line with Khoklachev and overage Alex Aleardi done its utmost to keep Windsor afloat even as injuries and suspensions have regularly left 2-3 skaters short of a full lineup. Rychel's hot streak has brought up to 10th in OHL scoring with 32 goals and 66 points, factoring into 41.6 per cent of Windsor's scoring.
"It's definitely huge," Rychel says of getting Khokhlachev as his centre for the final push. "He's a world-class passer and definitely the best centre I've ever had. Plus Alex Aleardi is a real speedster."
1. As a third-year junior whom scouts have had more time to assess, what do you realy want to show over the remaining time you have this season?
"Just my all-around play, that I can play in every situation whether it be penalty kill, 5-on-4, 5-on-5. Just show them that I can be pretty tough."
2. Who is the toughest defenceman you have ever faced in the OHL?
"There are so many great D, guys like Dougie Hamilton. But going by to my rookie year, a guy who is really underrated is [current Columbus Blue Jackets farmhand] Dalton Prout. He's a really good defensive defenceman and he's probably 220 pounds, so going into the corner with him was tough."
3. Which is your favourite road arena?
"Budweiser Gardens. It's a huge rivalry with London and we always get up for them. It was obviously a tough series for us last season [when London won 4-0], but it's a good atmosphere and it's always fun."
4. Pursuing a pro hockey career is so all-consuming, what is your 'getaway' activity?
"In the summer, definitely golf. Probably in the winter, just watching a movie or hanging out with the guys. I try to stay away from the rink sometimes."
5. What is the deal with your cat having his own Twitter — @TempeltonJ?
"That's my mom [Denise Rychel]. I have nothing to do with that. My cat's awesome. All the boys love it when they come over to our house."
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.
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