June 05, 2012
Nick Walters survived while running with some fast company this season.
Playing for the Everett Silvertips in the WHL's U.S. Division meant regular appointments with high-scoring teams such as the Portland Winterhawks, who led the league in goals scored, and the Tri-City Americans, who had three 100-point scorers. Meantime, Everett was just trying to scrape together enough points for a playoff berth. Lo and behold, though, Walters emerged as one of the underrated shutdown defencemen in the NHL draft class of 2012, helping the 'Tips make the post-season after a very slow start. He also earned an invitation to last weekend's NHL Scouting Combine along with his highly touted teammate Ryan Murray.
"We struggled in the first part of the season, got like six wins or something," the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Walters said. "But since I'm here [at the scouting combine I must have done something to get noticed. I think it helped with Ryan [Murray] on my team. Scouts come to watch him and if you produce, they notice you too."
The 18-year-old Walters tallied six goals and 18 points in 62 games for Everett, while amassing 95 points. His plus/minus was -27, but that probably reflected that he was on a classic hard-working team which scored only 132 non-power play goals, making it tough for a defensive defenceman to earn a coveted plus. By most accounts, he was consistent throughout the year, as his NHL Central Scouting ranking barely budged — 68th among North American skaters in January and 69th in April's final ranking. That suggests he's pretty steady. Becoming more physical as he keeps physically maturing and becoming more at ease with the WHL could help him kick up his game a notch after the draft.
Walters, who's from St. Albert, Alta., played with Murray occasionally on special teams; the two left-shot defencemen usually weren't paired together. But Walters notes playing with a top prospect helped.
"I learned a lot from Ryan watching what he does in the rink and outside the rink," said Walters, who added he also leaned on overage Josh Birkholz for support this season.
"Confidence with the puck in my own zone and the offensive zone. My first year I only had four points. I'd just get the puck and get rid of it. This year I was more confident and more able to look for our guy and make the good pass, look for a better option."
2. Which NHL defencemen do you watch closely, not necessarily to emulate, but for certain elements of what they do?
3. Apart from the obvious — everyone your age has to become a better skater, everyone has to increase his strength — what are some specific components of the game you really need to focus on over the next year or two?
"My offensive game. Not necessarily just points, but being able to walk the line, get my shots through to the net. Knowing when to get in and when to get out of the rush. When to pinch and when not to pinch. Stuff like that."
4. What is your favourite road rink in the WHL?
"Seattle's really nice, Vancouver too, but Kelowna [Prospera Place] is probably my favourite. Nice atmosphere. I didn't grow up there but I spent a year at the Pursuit of Excellence [Hockey Academy in Kelowna] and my aunt lives there so growing up I would go there for Christmas break and always go to a couple games."
5. Did you have a welcome-to-the-WHL moment — something that was rough at that time, but can be spun into a learning experience?
"My first game I went into the corner and the forechecker hit me and we both feel and I ended up getting three stitches over my left eye. That was a little shock for me to have that happen."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.