C.J. Yakimowicz may have started the year off the radar, but a mid-season decision to join the OHL’s London Knights has found him squarely on the NHL Draft radar and he’s looking forward to making a big impression.
At 6’2 and 210 pounds, Yakimowicz has prototypical power-forward size and was a welcome addition to the Knights’ roster at Christmas. Joining the hosts of the 2014 MasterCard Memorial Cup and getting a guaranteed spot in the tournament was a big carrot, but leaving home was a new experience.
“It was very hard. Either way, I was going to have to leave my family for the first time so it was a tough decision,” explained Yakimowicz, who said he had spent the previous seven years playing at home in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. “But honestly, I just talked with people and thinking about it myself — I thought really hard about what would be best for me and I really and truly believe that this was the right decision.
“It was pretty tough, but my parents were very supportive. They said whatever you want to do, we’re going to back you, so it was an easy decision in that sense. And my billet parents are great, so it’s been a good fit.”
It was a decision that now sees him ranked 153rd amongst North American skaters for the 2014 NHL Draft.
“I was playing U-18 triple-A, which is pretty good in the States. I had a good year at the beginning of the year, so I started to get some offers from teams,” he said. “I got some interest from some NCAA teams. And then I started hearing from OHL teams and I felt my game fit better in the OHL style of game, so I decided to come here.”
In addition to fitting the OHL style, Yakimowicz said he believes that the OHL is the best way to achieve his dream of playing in the NHL.
“I mean, just look at the amount of players who come from the OHL to the NHL,” he said. “I think it’s the highest number out of any league. I think it’s very true when people say it’s the most direct way.”
Going from off the radar to being ranked would seem to be a cause for celebration, but Yakimowicz said he wasn’t focused on Central Scouting.
“I didn’t even know [when it was the day] that the final rankings came out,” he said. “I was in class and one of the kids in our school pulled it up and said that I was on there. I’m more focused and worried on the series than the draft.”
Yakimowicz said he grew up a Wilkes-Barre fan, but extended his interest to the parent club when a certain ‘kid’ came to Pittsburgh.
“I was a Wilkes-Barre fan, but once [Sidney] Crosby came into play, he was my favourite player and still is,” he said, adding that while he’s a fan of Crosby’s game, he sees more of himself in a certain Bruins’ bruiser. “I like Milan Lucic. I’d like to try and play like him, but it’s very difficult.”
It’s that style that got him some interest from the OHL and it’s one he’s going to continue to play, though he expects to be able to show some of his offensive talents in the future.
“I’m going to come here and that’s what they told me to do, just play how they saw me. I’m not going to try and change it,” he said. “Obviously I want to get up there and chip in some goals here and there, but I think my main goal is to be a force out there, hit, grind.”
C.J. stands for Chandler James, but Yakimowicz prefers going by his initials. And the opportunity to see his name on a Memorial Cup roster played a significant role in his decision as to where to play.
“The Memorial Cup was a pretty big factor,” he said. “But even just London being London is also a huge factor.”
With the draft fast approaching, Yakimowicz said he’s well aware of what he needs to do.
“I’ve got to try to work on my hands a lot,” he said, after scoring three goals and adding four assists in 33 OHL regular-season games. “That’s what I really need to improve and that’s what I’m going to try to bear down on.”
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