December 17, 2010
Throughout the season, Buzzing The Net is profiling Canadian Hockey League players who are in their NHL draft season.
Not at the exciting young talent in Edmonton wears Oilers copper and blue.
Centre Michael St. Croix is on a roll that has gone hand-in-hand with his Edmonton Oil Kings' climb into a playoff position. The centre's draft stock is rising in the wake of his current hot streak (24 points in his past 11 games), which has vaulted him ahead of several Team Canada candidates in the WHL scoring race. He's also confident the next step is Edmonton proper will start checking out the Oil Kings, who have fashioned a nine-game point streak but often play before sparse crowds at Rexall Place.
"We feel like we're starting to build our own momentum," says St. Croix, 17, who has 18 goals and 43 points in 32 games. "Now that we're starting to win we believe the fans are going to start to come. Edmonton knows their hockey and they want to see a winning team. They were spoiled for so many years with Gretzky and all those guys."
At 5-foot-11, 179 pounds, the Winnipegger fits the mould of the player who was drafted high out of minor hockey — fourth overall in the WHL bantam draft in 2008 — by virtue of his speed and gaudy stats. For such a talent, a determining factor in blossoming into a high NHL pick at age 18 is showing a more well-rounded game. St. Croix, whose former-NHLer father Rick St. Croix is a well-regarded goaltending guru, is well-aware he needs to show more than offensive flair.
"Our coaches in Edmonton have really been pushing me to be better defensively," he says. "Focusing more on my defensive play has really allowed me to play to get those chances. Last season, I was cheating a lot to try and get chances, now instead of cheating, I started working better and harder defensively."
Another plus for St. Croix is that he's the youngest child in a hockey family. Along with his dad, his brother, Chris St. Croix, played as high as the AHL and in Europe. One of his sisters, Richelle St. Croix, played at Minnesota State in the WCHA, the toughest conference's in NCAA Division I women's hockey. There was a trickle-down effect on youngg Michael.
"He's awesome, any time I need any advice, he's there to give me a hand," St. Croix says of his father, who earned a Stanley Cup ring in 1999 as a goaltending coach for the Dallas Stars. "I talk to him after every game. He's telling me what is going on the hockey world and what I need to be working on. He's been a professional and he knows what it takes. It's very beneficial to have someone like that.
"I've just had so much support through my whole life," he adds. "I was always at my brother's and sisters' hockey games, just always understood the game from an early age. I was also super-motivated to do what my brother did from the time I was three when he left for the WHL."
"Probably my hockey sense and playmaking ability. Offence has just always been there for me. The defensive part is something that I'm working on and hopefully at the next level I'll be a two-way player."
2. What is your favourite rink to play in, other than your own?
"I'm going to have to go with the Saddledome in Calgary. Last year, the Hitmen had a great team so we didn't get too many wins there, but they have great fans and great ice there. It's just a great arena."
3. What do you consider your proudest hockey achievement?
"Probably representing Team Western at the World Under-17 Challenge two years in a row. I was fortunate enough to do it as a [15-year-old] underager in 2009 and we reached the semifinal, losing to Team Ontario. I think I actually had more points in my first year than in my second year when I played with guys my own age."
4. What teammate has had the most impact on you?
"Brendan O'Donnell, who was drafted in the sixth round by Tampa Bay last year. He was my linemate for 3-4 years, starting when I was 12 and played up [an age level] in bantam in Winnipeg. Awesome guy, awesome character and he's a diamond in the rough, I think he's going to make it. He's playing in the BCHL for the Penticton Vees and he's committed to the University of North Dakota, which is a route I considered. We're where we are today because of each other."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"Got to go with Happy Gilmore. Young Adam Sandler, that's pretty funny. I remember taking that movie from my brother without him knowing and going off to have some laughs on my own."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. (Photo: Edmonton Oil Kings.)