October 29, 2012
Sean Monahan's situation during his draft year is much like Ryan Murray's was a year ago, even though they don't play the same position.
Murray juggled his ambitions to be a NHL lottery pick last season with leading a young Everett Silvertips team, which he helped reach the WHL playoffs before the Columbus Blue Jackets drafted him No. 2 overall in June. Monahan, the Ottawa 67's centre who is considered the OHL's best draft prospect and a likely Top 5 selection next summer, has similarly become a primary leader in the nation's capital. On any given day, he might have a pair of wings whose C.V. includes scarcely little time as a top-six forward, yet he's fifth in league scoring with 22 points in 14 games on for a team which is 20th overall in the OHL at 4-8-0-2, but has a better goal differential than seven other teams.
"This year is going to involve a lot of hard work and that's something I'm ready for and something that's going to help me be better," says Monahan. "I just have to push myself and push my teammates and be there for them to look up to me and be here for them.
"We're starting to come together as team here and know what it takes to win, we're going to start getting some wins."
For all one knows, Monahan could be playing pro already in some alternate timeline where he had been old enough for the 2012 draft and there had been no NHL lockout. The 6-foot-2, 193-pound Monahan, who was one of two draft-year players to wear the Maple Leaf in this summer's Canada-Russia Challenge, has the size and on-ice vision that could help him fit into the NHL quickly, much like both Eric Staal and Jordan Staal, two big-leaguers he admires. Last season, another big centre, Sean Couturier, went directly from the draft to The Show after being selected eighth overall by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Monahan can be placed on a similar track, especially if he improves his accelaration, which is often a later-arriving puzzle piece for taller forwards. Meantime, the Brampton, Ont., native is focused on helping Ottawa eke out wins, even though his wings on any given night are likely to have little top-six experience in the OHL. Monahan exemplified that Monday against the Kingston Frontenacs when he pulled up on the rush and threaded a perfect pass to Taylor Davis for the 17-year-old rookie defender's second OHL goal.
"Good leaders lead by example," Ottawa coach-GM Chris Byrne says of Monahan. "Doing the right things all the time and being an every-day player is exactly what he is and why he was chosen to be a leader on this team. I think as he gets more comfortable with it he'll be even more vocal and become that kind of leader. He's done a good job with our young guys.
"He's more reserved when he first meets people, but he's a confident kid and when it's the right time to say something, he usually does," Byrne adds.
Monahan started early with preparation for the storm that awaits a top prospect. He made sure to cross the Ottawa River last February when the Halifax Mooseheads' Nathan MacKinnon, the favourite to go No. 1, came to town to face the Gatineau Olympiques. He also went to the NHL draft in Pittsburgh.
"I went to the draft, seeing how that works. Just talking to Cece [Cody Ceci] and having him around, I can talk to him and he always gives me advice to be about what to be aware of."
1. How does being a late '94 (Monahan turned 18 on Oct. 12) help you with your preparation for the draft year? A lot of your peers, people from your year in minor hockey, already went through it?
"A lot of them are pretty good friends and having Cece, I know what they've been through. I can talk to them and they can give me advice. Having the late birthday, you get the extra year, I think it benefits you. You learn a lot more and it prepares you much more for the big stage." (You and Vancouver Canucks first-rounder Brendan Gaunce are very close. How has he helped you?) "I talk to him quite a bit. He talks to me too. I think that's a big help. He's there for me."
2. What really stands out in your mind as a memory from playing in the Canada-Russia Challenge this summer?
"For sure, it was just wearing the Canadian jersey. It's a real honour. But the most important thing for me was just being around that high-end group of players. You learn a lot by seeing how they approach the game. It was a big learning experience for me."
3. There are no skills that a young player can neglect, but what is something you really desire to improve at this season?
"Just improving my first few steps, getting a more explosive start. Just get better at that and hopefully get my shot harder."
4. Hockey is such a 24/7, all-consuming endeavour. What do you like to do when you need to remove yourself from it briefly?
"I just like to relax and spend some time with my family and my friends. In the summer, if I'm taking some time off, I like to head up to my cottage and spend some time with my grandma [Joan Monahan], just that kind of stuff."
5. What was the last movie you saw?
"The Shawshank Redemption — might be my favourite movie of all time now. Just saw it when I went home on the weekend. My dad [John Monahan] introduced it to me so I decided to watch it."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet .