December 05, 2013
Spencer Watson's response is candid and confident when asked to rate his ability to find holes in the offensive zone on a scale from one to 10.
That is, after all, the determining factor between a young player with good tools — agility, the fast-twitch muscle fibres to get off a quick shot within a confined space — and a pure goal scorer. Watson, at a compact 5-foot-9¼ and 166 pounds, is blossoming into the leader for the Kingston Frontenacs, where he plays regularly with fellow lauded 17-year-old Sam Bennett and Tampa Bay Lightning-drafted left wing Henri Ikonen.
"I would have to say it’s up there, like eight or nine for sure," says Watson, who scored his first OHL hat trick and has 14 goals and 27 points through 24 games. "Being in the league now for a year and consistently playing with the same guys, it’s a bit easier to read plays now, where they are on the ice. When I came in, maybe it was a six or seven. Reading the game is one of my strengths."
The London, Ont., native was one of three 20-goal scorers last season from among the OHL's 2012 priority selection draft class, with the others being Erie superstar Connor McDavid and Sault Ste. Marie centre Jared McCann. Watson carried that forward into being a leading scorer for Canada the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament in August, where he, Bennett and teammate Roland McKeown helped bring home a gold medal.
Perhaps it's not surprising Watson has some well-honed 1-on-1 skills. He and his twin brother Matt Watson, a rookie defenceman for the Frontenacs, whiled away many a winter day and night practising on a 90 by 35-foot rink in the backyard of their parents' Brad and Julie's home.
"It was pretty big, about the size of the area between the red line and the blue line [on a regulation rink]," says Spencer Watson, whom NHL Central Scouting listed as an A skater on its November watch list. We would be out there every night, just going around and having fun. That’s where Matt and I really developed our love for the game.
"I always remember that just after Christmas, a bunch of my teammates would come over to play pond hockey and watch the world juniors," Watson adds. "For me, that was always a pretty cool time."
It is too early to say whether Watson's contributions for Hockey Canada will help keep him in good stead with the under-20 program for a future world junior. It might be worth making a mental note that he will be a 19-year-old when Hockey Canada once again has to fashion a team to compete on the larger international rink in Finland for the 2016 WJC.
In the here and now, he's mostly concerned with helping Kingston win games that are not of the freewheeling variety. The Frontenacs (.611 point pct., third in the OHL's Eastern Conference) indicated they might be coming out of a October/early November nosedive by beating first-place Oshawa on Sunday.
"Those games are the most important to learn how to win," says Watson, who scored in that tight-checking contest. "Just finding a way to win, especially against a few division rivals."
1. Where is one area of your game where you want to demonstrate a marked improvement by the end of the season?
"My defensive zone. I feel like I've improved a lot at that since the summer. Working with [London Knights coach] Dale Hunter at the Hlinka tournament taught me to how to be defensive-minded and then still be offensive-minded. Over the rest of the year, I'd like to be safe and sound there."
2. In your mind, what would scouts say is the biggest thing you have to work on between now and when you'll be on the cusp of turning pro?
"Some of the top-end players like [Tampa Bay Lightning star] Steven Stamkos and all the really good goal scorers, I like to watch them a lot. I get to know what they do on and off the ice and what I can do to get to that level. Even some of the young guys, like [Carolina Hurricanes centre] Jeff Skinner and even some of the up-and-coming guys, like Jonathan Huberdeau [of the Florida Panthers]. It’s nice to see how they've adapted to the game."
3. Outside of your parents (Brad and Julie), who is one person who comes to mind when you think, "Man, if not for her or him, I might not be at this point?"
"Fred Polci, one of my skating instructors who I've known all my life, I've grown a strong bond with him. Coaches like Rob Simpson, who’s know with the Knights, he was probably one of my favourites. He taught me a lot about how to prepare for the OHL [while Watson was playing minor hockey in London]."
4. Where is your favourite road rink in the OHL?
"I like playing in Oshawa [General Motors Centre], I feel like I always play well there. It’s just a great arena to be in. Also, arenas like Sarnia's and London because it’s my hometown."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"I’ve seen so many movies lately. TV show: probably Criminal Minds. Movie? Man of Steel."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.