If Kitchener Rangers fans want to thank anyone for the presence of 20-goal-man Darby Llewellyn on their favourite team’s roster, they can simply turn to Darby’s older brother, Tristin.
“My brother played the university route in our hometown at U of M [University of Michigan] and it didn’t really go so well for him,” the younger Llewellyn explained. “So I decided to try the other way and Kitchener seemed to be the best place to do it.
“Honestly, he was the one who convinced my mom to let me go to the ‘O’, so he was a big influence on getting me here as it is.”
Llewellyn wouldn’t expand on Tristin’s experience, but said that his older brother strongly advocated that Darby try the OHL route. Tristin played most of four years in Ann Arbor (he only appeared in 18 games in his senior season), before bouncing around the minor leagues in the ECHL, SPHL, and CHL. Tristin is currently on injured reserve with the CHL’s Rapid City Rush.
So Tristin knows his way around the rinks — and it’s not as if the Llewellyns weren’t familiar with the league.
“I hadn’t committed anywhere. I thought about it at the beginning of my minor-midget year, but the OHL had always been a big thing for me,” Llewellyn explained. “Having seasons tickets with my family for the [Plymouth] Whalers for the longest time, I thought it was the right decision to come.”
Last year, Llewellyn played in 40 games, scoring seven goals and adding six assists for the Rangers. In 44 games this season, Llewellyn has accounted for 21 goals and eight assists. In discussing his statistical accomplishments so far, he laughs and answers the question even before it’s asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess just sometimes the pucks are on my side for shooting the puck and then sometimes the puck just comes to my stick in the right spots.”
He finds himself ranked 113th overall by Central Scouting in its midterm list of North American skaters eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft. He hopes to join his teammates Ryan MacInnis and Nick Magyar at the upper reaches of that list by the end of the season.
“Obviously you want to be higher than you are, but to be honest just getting on that list is an accomplishment in itself,” he said. “I’m looking to keep working to get better and find myself higher on that list when it comes to the final rankings.
“I think it’s more or less motivation. You always strive to get better and you want to try to make yourself to get a little bit higher on the list, even if you’re at the top.”
He feels keeping the game basic will be the best way for him to get noticed and rise up the charts.
“I want to play a bit of a more simple game, instead of trying to make the cute play here and there,” he said. “I want my game play to be simple the entire time and I think that will help me rise up the list.”
Playing in Canada is not that much of a stretch for the Michigan native — after all, he does have some Canuck roots courtesy of his Saskatchewan born-and-raised father.
“My brother and I always grew up watching Toronto. My dad grew up in Western Canada, so he’s always been a huge Calgary Flames fan,” he said. “I haven’t been out to Saskatoon in a while. My brother went out there last year. Basically, my dad’s entire family is out there.”
And he said he expects more and more American-born players to choose the Canadian Hockey League path to the NHL.
“It’s a huge disparity here. A lot of guys from the U.S. are starting to come here and we’re seeing more and more,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a huge difference in what path you take, because no matter what you’re going to end up playing in a junior level somewhere.”
Llewellyn said that his key goal is to help the Rangers, who currently sit in tenth place in the OHL’s Western Conference (two points behind the Sarnia Sting), make the playoffs. And he hopes part of helping the team comes along with a few more ‘helpers’
“Well, obviously I want to try to have the same type of year as I had in the first half,” he said. “I mean, hopefully I’ll have a couple more assists during the back end here.”
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard