Ryan Kujawinski has the tools to take over a game. Of course, he is a mere 17 years old, so he's still learning to marshal the focus that will enable him to do that more frequently for the improving Kingston Frontenacs.
The centre whose 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame belies his speed emerged as a potential NHL first-rounder last season after the Sarnia Sting sent him across conference lines in a trade for Boston Bruins prospect Ryan Spooner that Sting fans immediately rued. The Iroquois Falls, Ont., native quickly became the Fronts' offensive leader. He has started decently well this season, with eight points (3G-5A) in six games and one nod as Ontario Hockey League player of the week. However, he's still far from showing the consistency that could make him a top-15 talent in next summer's NHL draft class.
"I definitely want to work on my defensive end, get stronger as the year goes on work hard in the weight room," says Kujawinski, whom NHL Central Skating rated as a B skater in its preliminary draft rankings. "My main focus this year is D-zone and being stronger and more aggressive on the puck."
There is little question that Kujawinski has the skill and size for the next level. Skill players with his size are also closely scrutinized to see if they get involved in the heavy going in the corners and along the boards, since that will be necessity in the NHL, where time and space are at a far greater premium in major junior.
Kujawinski has had multi-point nights in three of the Frontenacs' six games while playing with two OHL newcomers, 16-year-old left wing Sam Bennett and 18-year-old Finn Henri Ikonen. However, he's been goose-egged in the other three, which could just be luck.
"People forget his age," Frontenacs coach Todd Gill says. "I do expect Ryan to be a force every night, creating with his speed. The consistency right now isn't there. There's some games he's our best offensive forward and other games where he's not creating. Sometimes you have to keep it simple. As the year goes on, we expect big things from him."
Delivering on that potential could push Kujawinski toward the top half of very deep first round next June, or else slot him toward the end of the draft's first night. He had perhaps one of his better nights last Friday when his three points helped the Frontenacs go toe-to-toe with league-leading Oshawa, which has more top-60 NHL picks (four) than Kingston has drafts picks (one, Nashville Predators fourth-rounder Miko Vainonen).
"We'll be playing them a lot this season," Kujawinski says of the Generals, an East Division rival. "We battled hard against them. Just a few mistakes cost them. I think we're right up there with them and we'll have some good battles this year."
1. You have to play your own game, but whom in the NHL do you study because he's a similar type of player?
"I like the Rick Nash type of player. I think he's very gifted offensively and he's good in his own zone as well. I really admire him. Another guy is Evgeni Malkin — great hands, great vision and strong on the puck."
2. How much did playing for Canada (in the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament) this summer help you get ready for this season?
"It was awesome experience, especially winning it too. We had great bunch of guys. It was especially good to do it while playing for Todd [Gill]. That was awesome for me because I knew all the systems, knew the way he wanted things done.."
3. What did leaving home in Iroquois Falls, Ont., to spend your OHL draft season in Sudbury do for you as an athlete?
"I had great billets and coaching. I had to adjust to a different school, got to be around new peoole. It really helped out. I enjoyed my year there, It gave me an idea of what my life was going to like if I made the OHL."
4. Outside of parents — have to phrase it this way to avoid the inevitable "my dad" answer — whom do you most credit for helping you in hockey?
"I had great minor hockey coaches throughout. My brother Kalvin always helps me out too, watching and letter me know what I need to do. He was a smart defensive defenceman when he played and he sees the ice well. He's focusing on school right now, taking power engineering at Cambrian College [in Sudbury, where Ryan played minor midget]."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"I don't watch much TV. I like Criminal Minds. That's a good show."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet .
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