June 02, 2014
Haydn Fleury has been brushing shoulders with NHL talent far beyond his two years of major junior puck. In fact, the Red Deer Rebels rearguard was in pull-ups when he had his first encounter with a future pro hockey player, as fellow Carlyle, Sask., native and then-Dallas Stars prospect Brenden Morrow babysat him when he was three years old.
“I was little back then and didn’t really understand how good of a player he was, but now it’s pretty cool to look back at that,” says Fleury, who scored eight goals and 46 points in 70 games this year. “He has been a good role model for me growing up. I know when I was a kid I wanted to be like him.”
It's only a matter of time before Fleury joins Morrow, who was picked 25th overall by the Stars in 1997, in the first-round club. He is ultimately the consensus second best defenceman in the draft behind Barrie Colts star Aaron Ekblad. The combination of his enticing 6-foot-3, 198-pound frame, offensive skill, strong skating ability and physicality has most scouts projecting him as a future top-pairing defender.
The 17-year-old is to some extent following in the footsteps of former Rebel Mathew Dumba, who was selected seventh overall by the Minnesota Wild in 2012. Each blueliner earned top-10 rankings heading into their respective drafts. Knowing someone firsthand who went through the hoopla of a draft year has benefited Fleury because he has received valuable advice from his ex-teammate.
“It was good to get to have someone like him to get to ask questions and get advice from as a rookie,” says Fleury, whom NHL Central Scouting Service ranks ninth among North American skaters . “He told me for this year just to work hard and try not to worry about what people are saying and the rankings. It’s nice to know someone who went through all of this.”
Fleury, though, doesn’t see Dumba as an accurate comparable to how he approaches the game.
“I try to play like Jay Bouwmeester,” he says. “I like how he is good in all areas of the game and can be counted on for big minutes. He logs a lot of ice time and handles them well.”
Fleury won’t be the only Rebel selected with a high pick in Philadelphia. His teammate, Conner Bleackley, is regarded as a top-45 talent. With Bleackley, a 6-foot, 190-pound centre, on the heels of Fleury in some draft rankings at the start of the year, the two Rebels developed a bit of rivalry.
“We’ve had a healthy competition through the year,” says Fleury. “We push each other and that helps use get better. We kind of have had bragging rights on the line for (draft) rankings and who gets drafted first.”
1. How would you describe yourself as a player?
“I’m a big, mobile defenceman who is effective at both ends. I think I make an impact in all areas of the ice and play a physical game.”
2. Do you have a favourite NHL team?
“I like the (Edmonton) Oilers. I grew up watching them because my dad is a huge fan of them.”
3. You spent two years in Wilcox playing for the Notre Dame program. Why did you decide to play for the Hounds and what was your experience like?
“I went to Notre Dame because I thought it was my best option for my development. I had a great experience in Notre Dame. I like how it’s in a small town; it’s easy to just focus on hockey. There’s not that much to distract you and they have great coaches there.”
4. I have read that you’re not related to former NHL player Theo Fleury or Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, but do you still get asked quite a bit if you are?
“Yeah I do. I probably am asked twice a week if I’m related to one of those guys. It’s kind of annoying, but it’s not that bad.”
5. Who do you think is the toughest forward to play against in the WHL?
“I’d have to go with (Prince Albert Raiders centre) Leon Draisaitl. He’s a big, skilled player that’s really tough to contain.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen