By Aedan Helmer, Ottawa Sun
Tyler Graovac is generating a whole lot of excitement around the 67’s as the OHL’s leading goal-scorer this season and that sentiment is starting to spread across borders.
Graovac caught the attention of Hockey Canada scouts preparing their shortlist for the world junior championship as one of a handful of OHLers to compete in both games against Team Russia in last week’s Subway Super Series, where he scored the only Team OHL goal in Game 3 in Guelph.
And on Tuesday, player development staff from the Minnesota Wild — whose well-spent seventh-round pick (191st overall) netted Graovac in 2011 — took in his fifth game in a marathon six-day stretch.
According to Wild director of player development Brad Bombardir, the excitement felt in Ottawa is resounding around the North Star State.
“He’s on a steady path of improving. Last year he made some strides in his game, and most importantly is his competitiveness. He’s brought it up another level and that’s why you’re seeing the success that he’s had this year so far,” said Bombardir, a Stanley Cup champion with the 2000 New Jersey Devils and a former Wild captain.
“We’re really pleased to see that he’s scoring goals, because it’s tough to score consistently at any level. It’s a natural progression for him, and obviously he has a lot of things to work on before he takes it to that next level, but we’re very pleased with where he’s gone.”
When the Brampton native was selected in the third round of the 2009 OHL draft (56th overall), he was a lanky kid at 6-foot-2 and 160 pounds with some strong ties to the region. His father Tom Graovac was a goalie for the legendary Cornwall Royals — teams that featured Dale Hawerchuk, Doug Gilmour and Marc Crawford — that captured consecutive Memorial Cup titles in 1980 and 1981.
Injuries, including a shattered jaw suffered while blocking a shot in his rookie season, stunted Graovac’s early development and likely contributed to his late-round consideration at the NHL draft table.
He’s since filled out his big frame, now tipping the scales at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, and credits a long summer living and training in Minnesota with some established NHLers like Zach Parise and Cal Clutterbuck.
“I worked hard to become the player I am today,” said Graovac. “I set a ton of goals for the season, and I’m hoping to reach them. I just have to keep it simple and bring the intensity every shift.”
Where Graovac’s potential maxes out, according to Bombardir, is completely up to him.
“I never try to project where the guys will be, because you’re either going to be really surprised and happy, or you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. The main thing for these young guys is to recognize the opportunity they have every day, and to realize the amount of work they have to put in. What they become is certainly up to them.”
Garnering consideration for Team Canada is an accomplishment in itself and making the squad would be a huge boost, as Bombardir would know from playing in the 1992 WJC.
“I saw another level to his competitiveness (at the Super Series) and he challenged himself to go out there and play hard and play physical and to adapt to the role he was given,” said Bombardir.
“His name is out there and it’s on the map. He’s had a good start and you would hope that people recognize that.”
With the 67’s in the midst of a four-game losing streak, and with more trade rumours swirling in the wake of the departures of overagers Jake Cardwell and Keegan Wilson, Cody Ceci is getting a real test as team captain to keep a dressing room full of young and increasingly frustrated players together.
“We’re coming close every game and it’s coming down to the last couple minutes,” said Ceci Tuesday after falling short in a comeback attempt against Mississauga. “We’re trying to battle back too hard at the end and we should be doing that right from the start.”
Ceci had coach Chris Byrne’s back in the wake of Monday’s trading day that also saw G Clint Windsor joining his fourth OHL team.
“It’s always good getting new faces in the room,” said Ceci. “Guys are playing hard, but the bounces aren’t going our way. The new faces should give us some momentum.”