There is little not to like about Zach Nastasiuk, what with that big-bodied frame NHL teams crave and a family tree that has all manner of sports equipment hanging off seemingly every branch.
The 6-foot-1, 191-pound right wing, who turns 18 at the end of this month, is having a superb sophomore season while helping the Owen Sound Attack get in contention for the Ontario Hockey League championship. Nastasiuk, who was lauded for his play away from the puck even during his 16-year-old season, has given Owen Sound a good confluence of two-way play, size up front and decent hands. His two-goal night Thursday in an Attack loss to his hometown Barrie Colts — Owen Sound fans would be quick to tell you their beloveds prevailed 4-1-0-1 in the Highway 26 season series — gave him 16 goals and 32 points in 54 games, with a +18 plus/minus. Those numbers are in line with what another Barrie-area winger, Garrett Wilson, produced in his age-17 season before going on to be a 40-goal scorer and captain of an OHL championship team in his final season.
Nastasiuk notes his skating will need to catch up to his growth, but he seems mature beyond his years. For that, he credits his father Paul Nastasiuk, who earned a Grey Cup ring during his CFL career with the Toronto Argonauts. Zach wears his father’s old No. 27 for the Attack. His older sister, Samantha Nastasiuk, sports the same digits for the Western Mustangs women’s hockey team.
"I think I'm pretty strong mentally,” says Zach Nastasiuk, who is NHL Central Scouting’s 33rd-ranked North American skater. “My dad has helped me with knowing what it takes. He played professional football and knows what can happen sometimes in sports. You're going to get yelled at, this can happen, the fans can get on you. You just have to zone it out.”
Along with with his dad and older sis, Nastasiuk’s mother, Sue, played basketball at Wilfrid Laurier University. His father, a one-time national rookie of the year in university football, has also part of a group of brothers who graced the gridiron for the Golden Hawks.
Missing six games due to a shoulder injury in mid-October slowed Nastasiuk’s progress early in the season. Sitting out affects a player’s aerobic capacity and by extension, his effectiveness when he first comes back. Since getting back fully to game fitness, Nastasiuk has been very reliable for Owen Sound, which is third in the OHL’s deep Western Conference.
"They've done a really good job getting us us ready for this year because I know they sensed something was bound to happen for us in the long run,” Nastasiuk says of Attack coach Greg Ireland and his staff.
Nastasiuk also has a familiar motivator. It is commonplace for a junior team to have two coveted prospects, but it is rare to have two who were also minor hockey teammates. Nastasiuk and Attack defenceman Chris Bigras, Central Scouting’s 19th-ranked domestic skater, played minor hockey together in Barrie.
"Playing with him in minor hockey, seeing him grow and us pushing each other in practice has helped a lot. He's got a great attitude. There are other players on that team. Kurtis Gabriel has fought through a lot of adversity. I've never seen anyone work harder than him. I learned how to act as a pro from him."
1. There is no skill a young player can slack off on, but what is a specific area where you need to show growth?
"My skating. That can't happen overnight. A big guy like me, that takes time. It's not like I can keep up with [Owen Sound's offensive leaders Dan] Catenacci and [Cameron] Brace out there. I've been told I need to work on it and that's what I'm going to work on."
2. Which NHL player(s) do you watch closely because you aspire to play a similar style?
"Maybe someone like [Anaheim Ducks centre] Ryan Getzlaf. He's a skilled guy and he's really physically. Hopefully I can almost be like him."
3. Hockey is so all-consuming, what's an activity or something you do when you need a mental break from it?
"I'm really into biology in school. Learning about the human body and stuff like that. It's really interesting to know, 'okay, this is happening to me' and know what's causing it inside my body. I think Grade 10 science really started that. You really learn in detail about the skeletal system and muscle groups. I found that interesting."
4. You have a long way to go in your career, but what accomplishment do you take the mosts pride from?
"Even to be in the [CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game] is a huge honour. It's huge to be asked to play against the best in my age group. It shows that I'm on the radar and that they are interested.
"My first OHL game is also a memory I'll always have. "
5. Hockey players need to have super-strict diets, but no one is perfect: so then, favourite unhealthy snack?
"I'm a sucker for chocolate chip cookies or doughnuts, those things."
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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