The hockey hotbed strikes again. Another NHL Entry Draft, another player from Erie chosen.
We're kidding, of course. Erie is known for hockey about as much as Antarctica for its never-ending summers, which makes it that much more remarkable that Jaccob Slavin was selected in the fourth round by the Carolina Hurricanes.
"It was awesome," said Slavin, who turned 18 on May 1. "This is what I've been working for all my life. God has a plan for me and it all worked out."
Slavin, a defenseman who has committed to Colorado College, wasn't considered a hot draft prospect. He wasn't ranked by NHL Central Scouting. Even his former coach Angelo Ricci (with the Colorado Thunderbirds 16-and-under squad) figured he'd land in the fifth- to seventh-round range.
Perhaps Slavin's parents should plant some Hardy Cyclamen. Like the woodland flower species, their son is a late bloomer.
His stock elevated most during the 2011-12 season, his second with the USHL's Chicago Steel. The 6-foot-2, 172-pounder established himself as a steady, intelligent defender with ever-increasing offensive skills. From the back line, he scored three goals and added 27 assists in 60 games for the Steel.
"I talked with Scott (McConnell), his coach with Chicago, and he was just so happy with his progress in terms of game management and decision making," Ricci said. "He's just become a really solid defenseman who moves the puck well and gets his feet up the ice."
Slavin reminds Ricci of another of his former Thunderbirds players, current University of Denver defenseman Josiah Didier. Like Slavin, Didier separated himself from the pack as he got older. Also like Slavin, he was chosen in the fourth round of the NHL Draft (by the Montreal Canadiens in 2011).
Slavin believes he is still far from reaching his ceiling as a player.
"I'm defensively sound, but I also have some offensive ability," he said. "I had a little trouble putting the puck in the net this year, but it will come. That's the goal for next season."
The plan for Slavin, who went to work out in North Carolina shortly after being chosen by the Hurricanes on June 23, is this: He'll spend one more season with the Steel. Then, in 2013-14, he'll join Colorado College. In hockey, an NHL team retains the rights to a drafted player while he is in school.
In a perfect world, Slavin hopes to be in the professional ranks before his four years at CC culminate.
"My goal is to have only three years at CC, so hopefully in four years I'll start playing professional," Slavin said.
Don't bet against it. Former Thunderbirds teammate Gustav Oloffson, a Broomfield resident who will join Slavin at CC in 2013, has seen his buddy achieve his goals on a regular basis.
"He's always had it, and his body type has always been different than everyone else," Oloffson said. "He's had the skill set all along and it just clicked."
Slavin is devoutly religious and often tweets about divine topics (mixed in with the occasional American Ninja Warrior reference). He is thankful and polite. And when it comes to hockey, he is as ambitious as they come.
"He's just a good kid on and off the ice," Ricci said. "He's raised really well and he's just very humble. He's always on the ice trying to get better. Jaccob, he's just one of those surprises.
"You knew he was good. You just didn't know how good."
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