Ottawa 67’s blueliner Tyler Cuma has almost come out of nowhere this season to the point where he is now considered a possible late first-round selection. The defensive defenseman had just 19 points in 63 games and was a minus-8 last season but now has already posted career highs in both goals and assists with a respectable plus-7 to go along with the 28 points.
The Bowmanville, Ontario product was Ottawa’s first choice in the OHL Priority Selection in 2006 and comes to the Top Prospects Game ranked as the 15th skater available in North America according to Central Scouting. By comparison, International Scouting Service has Cuma slotted just outside round one in the 34th spot.
Cuma will represent Ottawa at the 2008 OHL All-Star Classic as he did during the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge earlier in the season. This past summer Cuma was part of Canada’s entry at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
Hockey’s Future had a chance to talk to the just turned 18-year-old Ottawa rearguard yesterday after the skills competition in Edmonton.
HF: I imagine at the start of this season you had a list of goals that you wanted to accomplish during your draft year, one of them I assume was playing in this game. What else did you hope to accomplish and have you hit those goals yet?
TC: Absolutely! You know I wanted to be in all the special events and I got to this Top Prospects Game and that Canada-Russia Series as well. I’m getting a lot of opportunities with my team in Ottawa to showcase what I’ve got and it’s definitely an achievement to be here right now so it’s working out for me so far.
HF: Can you describe yourself as a player?
TC: I see myself more as a defensive defenseman because I like to take care of my own end first. If the opportunity arises I’ll jump into the rush, getting points is just an extra bonus but for me. I take care of my own end, make good outlet passes, I’m definitely a physical player and I like to be in people’s face. My philosophy is that if you’re in their time and space then they can’t really do too much.
HF: If you get a breakaway in the OHL do you pull out a move like you did in the skills competition?
TC: (laughs) I was actually in a shootout earlier this year and I missed the net and so far ‘Killer’ [coach Brian Kilrea] hasn’t had the confidence to put me back in for another one yet! Now if he gives me another shot then I might just have another trick up my sleeve.
HF: What has a legendary coach like Brian Kilrea meant to your career so far?
TC: He’s a great coach. We do the same old practices but it just comes so easily that it really sinks in for the guys. He’s all about moving the puck and skating and that’s what hockey is all about — moving your feet and the puck as fast as you can. As you get older the game gets faster and the guys get bigger and stronger so you have to make sure that you keep up. He’s been a great mentor, he shows me little things that I can improve in my game and he definitely wants the best from his players. He’ll yell at you if you’re screwing up but if he yells at you it’s for the best because you know that he cares about you.
HF: To what do you attribute the increase in offensive production?
TC: I’m getting opportunities to play on the first unit power play and playing with guys like Jamie McGinn (SJ), Logan Couture (FLA) who can put the puck in the net or set you up, it’s definitely paying off right now.
HF: As the playoffs get closer, are the 67’s in a position where you can be contenders?
TC: Yeah I think we will. Right now we’re short a lot of our key guys due to injuries so it’s a bit of a struggle where we’re trying to claw out every possible win that we can. I think that when we get all of our guys back and we’re healthy that we’re going to be a team to be reckoned with.
Cuma leads all Ottawa blueliners in scoring and although the 67’s are well back of division leaders Belleville and Oshawa, they are right in the middle of the pack with the rest of the conference when it comes to the playoff picture.
Listed at 6’3 and 182 lbs, the left-handed shooter has plenty of room to add muscle mass onto his frame which will certainly happen over the next couple of seasons. That extra strength and thickness should allow Cuma to step up his physical play and help him reach the pinnacle level of checker that he wants to achieve.
Well spoken and worldly at a young age, Cuma will be impressive at the NHL Combine once teams start conducting their official and in-depth player interviews. Already one gets the sense that Cuma’s stock is currently on a slow rise.