Michael Dal Colle, the rangy Oshawa Generals left wing with the oh-so-high ceiling, has little trouble staying grounded.
On the surface, Dal Colle has blossomed into a potential top-five NHL draft pick over the past season and half with the Generals. The 17-year-old boasts a rare combination of good size and acumen for protecting the puck and making skilled plays in very finite space. Dal Colle has also been galvanized by challenges in his home life. His older brother Jonluca, now 21, is autistic, which meant their parents, Gus and Wendy, were pulled in many more directions than even the typical hustle-bustle of a hockey family.
"I look at my mom and she's a huge role model in my life having to deal with a child who's got special needs and having to deal with two other kids," says Dal Colle, who is NHL Central Scouting's fifth-ranked domestic skater. "It was hard on her but it's gotten better. You adjust to it. It just makes you better as a person. I grew up quicker than most kids, realizing you can't take anything for granted in life.
"In the back of my mind, everything I do, all my goals, are for my family," says Dal Colle, whose sister Daniela played NCAA Division I hockey at Niagara University.
Dal Colle, currently sixth in OHL scoring with 27 goals and 64 points over 43 games, was billed as one of the league's most promising offensive talents when he joined the Generals in 2012 as their No. 7 overall pick. The 6-foot-2, 184-pounder immediately drew into the top-6 on an older team, keeping up with two-time Team Canada forward Boone Jenner as he put up 48 points in 63 games as a 16-year-old.
Dal Colle has built on that by pairing with Philadelphia Flyers first-rounder Scott Laughton to form a potent production line. That's helped spur the Generals to the top of the Eastern Conference, although the Sudbury Wolves are only three percentage points behind.
"A lot of the credit goes to [Gens coach] D.J. Smith," says Dal Colle, who wears No. 71 in homage to Pittsburgh Penguins centre Evgeni Malkin. "He's one of the better coaches in the league and he's got a group of young guys to do really well so I think our success is a credit to him."
The Woodbridge, Ont., native also views Carolina Hurricanes centre Eric Staal as a beacon at the next level ("we have a similar body type"). With Oshawa gearing up for a potential playoff run, Dal Colle is emphasizing his need to be prove himself as a trustworthy two-way player. It takes more than being a top-10 scorer as a sophomore to ascend to the next level. He notes it helps that his linemate Laughton, at the OHL level, has been the quintessential 200-foot player.
"I need to be adding some physicality to my game, getting quicker," says Dal Colle, who has a 29 of his 64 points on the power play. "Those are the two things I think about mostly. Getting bigger and stronger are important for getting to the next level.
"I also want to work on my D zone. Looking at a guy like Scott Laughton has helped me in that regard. He's been a role model for me, too."
1. You have mentioned that Malkin is one of your idols, but who is another NHL player whom you aspire to play like?
"Eric Staal. I really like the way he plays. I think he got snubbed by being left off the [Team Canada] Olympic roster. He's dominant, he's a big body, he's a leader and he's good defensively."
2. Which teammate deserves the most credit for helping you adapt to major junior hockey?
"Primarily, I'd probably say Boone Jenner [the two-year Generals captain who's now in his first pro season with the Columbus Blue Jackets]. He was a great player for us, but he's a great person and probably the best captain I've ever been around. Great with the young guys. He does it all on the ice."
3. What made you settle on Tom Brady as your favourite pro athlete? Why?
"Ever since I started watching football he was 'the guy.' I just love the way he carries himself. He's a huge role model to me and probably my favourite pro athlete. He just always looks like he's continuing to get better. You look at him and think he has it all, but he's always trying to get that fourth championship ring. Hopefully this Sunday he gets one step closer to it [when Brady's New England Patriots face the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game]."
4. Where is your favourite road rink in the OHL?
"Kitchener [Memorial Auditorium]. We played there in their home opener last year [on Oct. 19, 2012] and I'd never heard a rink that loud."
5. What Winter Olympics event would you like to compete in, just as a fantasy?
"Other than hockey?" (Other than hockey.) "Skiing, definitely alpine skiing."
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.