Nick Baptiste's draft season started off with a setback.
For many 17-year-olds, being chosen to represent Canada at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament is a rite of passage, a springboard into a pivotal season of their careers. The deep Canadian draft class, however, meant some players who might have been good enough to wear the Maple Leaf in another year were left home. Baptiste believes he can apply that hard-won lesson to his season in Sudbury.
"I'm definitely better for having that experience," says the Barrhaven, Ont., native whom NHL Central Scouting rated as a B skater in its preliminary 2013 draft rankings. "It taught me that I needed to be more consistent, that I need to be able to play my game every night. Coach Trent [Cull, Sudbury's bench boss] has really worked on me with that. I'm learning it's definitely a mental game, I need to learn to play every shift as hard as possible."
Baptiste, who is notable for not having taken up skating until the ripe old age of six, is one of the fastest skaters among the OHL's draft-year forwards has a power winger's frame at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds. While he was obviously a prolific scorer throughout his minor hockey days in Ottawa, he has shown a willingness to play physically. He had 19 of his 27 rookie-year points after Jan. 1 last season and has three assists through eight games this fall, although the Wolves have used him more as a two-way player, manning the third line in a balanced veteran lineup.
"I'm really happy with Nick," Wolves coach Trent Cull says. "Coming back this year, we've went through it with me and him sitting down and talking about what kind of player we want him to be. He's one of those guys who's finding his way and we've had some good communication. I think 'simple' is a key word for now and after that we're expecting to add some building blocks and after that, the sky's the limit."
1. At your age, there is no aspect of the game you can ignore, but what skills are you really focused on improving?
"Speed and my defensive zone capabilities. I think I have been known to not play well defensively and I've worked to change that in the last year-plus. Coach Trent [Cull] has worked to change that in the last bit."
2. In your mind, what would scouts say is the biggest thing you have to work on between now and when you'll be on the cusp of turning pro?
"Obviously, everyone talks about Sidney Crosby, how his work ethic is so amazing, and he's unbelievably skilled. I see myself as more of a Wayne Simmonds-type player. Good speed and a strong player offensively and defensively."
3. The Wolves had a better road record than home record last season despite having more travel time than almost anyone else in the Ontario League; what is the benefit of playing in Northern Ontario?
"It brings the team together. Our shortest trip is 3½ hours. We also have great fans up north, my billets Ivan and Colette Duchesne are unbelievable. I'm really happy to be in the spot I'm in."
4. Outside of family, who has had the greatest effect on you in hockey?
"Greg Kennedy, my coach from minor bantam all the way to minor midget. He was unbelievable with me. He really helped me defensively. Off the ice, he taught me how to be myself and be respectful, always 'please' and 'thank you.' Obviously I have had had great family support, my mom [Michele Emond] and dad [Ralph], my grandparents, aunts, uncles."
5. What is your favourite post-workout song?
"I've got a few but Collapse by Eminem, that's my favourite one."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet .
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