November 13, 2013
With Brandon Prophet, the other side of story involves feeling whole after the loss of a mentor figure.
In October, the Saginaw Spirit stay-at-home defenceman paid his final respects to his maternal grandfather, Jack Wilkinson, whom Prophet credits for helping him get a foothold in hockey while growing up in Brockville, Ontario. Now the 17-year-old Prophet is finding the form that helped him win rookie all-star accolades last season in Saginaw.
"I got off to a slow start, I had some things I had to go through with my family early on in the season," says Prophet, whom NHL Central Scouting listed as a B skater in its preseason Ones to Watch list. "Things are better now, lots of improvement lately, some good passes. I've been feeling better with every game.
"My grandfather was the one who got me started in hockey," adds the 6-foot-2, 202-pounder. "It was tough. He'd been ill for a while [before his death in October] so he couldn't watch me play... I know he's watching all my games now."
Prophet has six assists and is plus-9 through 18 games for Saginaw, where he defends the net in front of Detroit Red Wings prospect and potential Team Canada netminder Jake Paterson. The young blueliner profiles as a defensive defenceman who could be a low-risk selection in the middle rounds of the 2014 draft.
"For some kids, especially those in their draft year, they're always thinking they have to do more than they really have to," Spirit coach Greg Gilbert says. "When he keeps the game simple, he is a really good defenceman. When he tries to do too much, like look off the first option and try to do something more pretty, that's when he gets into a trouble. It's a process with all of these young guys and he is coming around."
Prophet came to the OHL versed in the realities of the sacrifices demanded of junior players. His parents, Rob and Peggy, billeted players for the Junior A Brockville Braves during his childhood. Along with having strong family support, Prophet also draws strength from his religious convictions.
"It's an escape, it helps me stay true to who I am," says Prophet, who represented Brockville's St. Mary's high school in shot put at the Ontario championships in 2012.
"It's a big part of my life."
1. Which NHL player do you most admire?
"Zdeno Chara. He's been my favourite player since I started watching hockey. I look up to him. I try to take things from his game and incorporate it into mine."
2. Who is the toughest forward you have faced so far in the time in the OHL?
"Honestly, we had good games last year against London in the playoffs so I was going to say Max Domi [a Phoenix Coyotes first-round choice]. He really stood out. He's really quick, really agile coming out of the corner. I remember playing him and he's someone."
3. What is a specific element of the game where you want to demonstrate improvement over the run of this season?
"Defensive zone play — positioning, pinning guys on the wall. Forcing forwards to go where I want them to go — instead of being reactive, be proactive. Just in the D zone, that's something I want to improve on."
4. What do you consider your proudest hockey achievement?
"I don't know about personal accomplishments, but my favourite part of hockey is when I am back in Saginaw and we go out to schools and read and go visit hospitals and stuff like that. It makes me proud to know that I can do something in the community."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"Try to get this down to one? If I had to pick something I really like to eat, it's called 'puppy chow.' It's a mixture of chocolate, cereal, white icing sugar and peanut butter. My billet in Saginaw makes it."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.