January 07, 2014
The Edmonton Oil Kings have built a strong reputation on developing top-notch blueliners – look no further than New York Islanders first-round pick Griffin Reinhart and Buffalo Sabres rookie Mark Pysyk for proof of that. Although Aaron Irving doesn’t want to get ahead of himself, he feels he has what it takes to blossom into the organization’s next prominent defenceman.
“I feel I’m in a good position and have the abilities to hopefully become another good defenceman to come out of Edmonton,” says Irving, whom NHL Central Scouting Service ranked as a C-list prospect in its November preliminary ranking . “They have some really smart coaches that know how to get the best out of you and prepare you for the NHL. I still have to keep on working and getting better, but I think I have what it takes.”
Irving was thrilled when his hometown Oil Kings drafted him ninth overall in the 2011 WHL bantam draft, but his jump to major junior didn’t come as quickly as he hoped. The organization decided it was better for him to spend his 16-year-old season in the AJHL, where he played for the Bonnyville Pontiacs, because they had a logjam on the back end last year.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I took it hard,” says the Edmonton native, who turns 18 in March. “My goal was to play in the WHL right away and I thought it would happen, but the Oil Kings explained to me how the spots were taken and if I stayed I wouldn’t be playing much. So we decided it was better for me to play a level down because I’d play a lot of minutes and it would be better for my development.”
With hindsight version, Irving feels the Oil Kings’ decision to make him wait a year to make the jump was for the best. The confidence and poise the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder learned in the AJHL last season largely paved the way to a smooth transition to the Dub this year. The proof is in the pudding in the eight goals and 27 points he has potted throughout his first 39 games.
“Knowing how everything worked out, I’m happy I played for the Pontiacs because I learned a lot there,” says Irving. “I became more confident and grew a lot as a player there. It was a good experience that I really benefited from.”
After watching how teammate Griffin Reinhart handles himself on and off the ice, Irving hopes to follow the footsteps of the 19-year-old major junior veteran as a strong two-way defenceman.
“It’s really nice to see how he works day in and day out,” says Irving. “I’ve just been watching his habits and trying to follow how he does things. It’s really a good opportunity for me to get to see that in the WHL so that I can see how much work it takes to get drafted.”
1. How would you describe yourself as a player?
“I think I’m a well-rounded two-way defenceman. But I’m more of a stay-at-home defenceman who can chip in offensively and carry the puck up the ice.”
2. Do you model your game after an NHL defenceman?
“I like how (Vancouver Canucks) Kevin Bieksa and (Nashville Predators) Shea Weber play. They play strong in their own end and play well in the offensive zone. I think they’re two good guys to look up to.”
3. What’s your favourite NHL team?
“I’m a big Oilers fan. I grew up in Edmonton and I try to go to as many games as I can.”
4. Do you have a favourite band or genre of music you like to listen to before a game?
“I don’t really have a favourite band. I’m okay with pretty much anything as long as it isn’t classical music. I’m not the guy in the room that’s picky about the music.”
5. What’s your favourite movie and TV show?
“For TV, I like Prison Break. I thought it was a great show and story. And 300 is my favourite movie because it’s just a great movie – not many better.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen