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Ottawa 67′s Tyler Graovac delivering in a critical season

Minnesota Wild selection Tyler Graovac (OHL Images)Tyler Graovac has already suited up in the Subway Super Series once — there's just a little added incentive this time.

Many of the OHL's best and brightest Canadian players who will perform in the middle leg of the six-game series with the Russian selects are already under contract with their NHL organization, already have a vague idea about what awaits them beyond the junior level. Graovac, as a seventh-round pick of the Minnesota Wild, is unsigned amid the ongoing lockout. Yet the 19-year-old is producing well with the Ottawa 67's; his OHL-leading 18 goals in 17 games — gives him only two fewer than he produced his first three seasons in Canada's capital.

A strong showing among the top-flight talent in Guelph on Thursday and Sarnia on Monday would improve his darkhorse chances at Team Canada and help him land that pro deal.

"I've been working as hard as I can," says Graovac, who's ninth in the OHL with 25 points in 17 games, also just two fewer than what he posted in 50 games for Ottawa last season. "I'm keeping good contact with Minnesota and they're keeping good contact with me. They're giving me good feedback and it's all about getting better every day.

"The Super Series is a great opportunity for me to show what I can do in international hockey," he adds. "It's a positive for me."

Few have ever doubted the 6-foot-4, 203-pound centre's potential since Graovac, one in a long line of lanky centres out of Southern Ontario to come to Ottawa, joined the 67's in 2009. Overcoming injuries and gaining better control of those long limbs have held him back. One reason he was still around in the final rond of the 2011 draft was because he broke his forearm near the end of the regular season as a 17-year-old and missed the playoffs. Last season, Graovac suffered a broken jaw. Ottawa also had a cadre of older scorers in front of him who have graduated, including two-time 50-goal man Tyler Toffoli.

Graovac has scored eight of his 18 goals in four games against Kingston and Erie, the two last-place teams from last season. He's not stat-padding against softer competition. He's produced 10 goals in his other 13, finding the range twice against the Kitchener Rangers, burying against Barrie and unlocking Mississauga's Steel trap. You get the idea. Suddenly a centre who played a more two-way game is asserting himself around the net, using his frame to get the puck and protect it better than in the past.

"He's worked hard on jumping in and getting those goals," 67's coach Chris Byrne says. "He's going to the net with his stick on the ice. He's healthy, he's a year older, he had a great summer."

It remains to be seen how that plays out with respect to the Wild's plans, Hockey Canada and the OHL hotstove if the 67's, who are ninth in the Eastern Conference, elect to be sellers. As the only Ottawa player playing in both Team OHL games, Graovac feels validated about overcoming the injuries that dogged him in past seasons.

"That was one of the highlights of my career, being in that Canada-Russia atmosphere," the Brampton, Ont., native says of playing in the 2011 Super Series game in the nation's capital. "It's been a lot of downs in the last three years, but you're going to have some downs and some lows in your career. It's about taking that and getting stronger. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. It's built a lot of character both in my game and outside the rink."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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