2009 prospects: Landon Ferraro

By Guy Flaming

Continuing a growing tradition of sons following in their father’s footsteps to the NHL, Landon Ferraro hopes to one day make a lasting impression on the league like Ray Ferraro did during his own career.

Born in the summer of 1991 while his dad was a member of the New York Islanders, Landon was surrounded by the sport. From Long Island and New York, the Ferraro family headed west and landed in Los Angeles where Ray would play parts of four seasons with the Kings. It was there where Landon says he first started taking his own interest in hockey but it was in the seemingly unlikely state of Georgia where it really took hold.

Hockey’s Future recently caught up with the younger Ferraro after his club team, the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, passed through Edmonton. Ferraro was asked which of the American cities he lived, in during his dad’s playing days, he felt could best be described as a ‘hockey town’.

“It had to have been New York but I was still pretty little then; I grew up mostly in LA and Atlanta and hockey wasn’t quite the most important sport in those cities,” Ferraro began. “It was interesting to see though, in Atlanta I was a bit older so I could actually figure some stuff out. Just seeing where my hockey league [in Atlanta] started from and the fanbase for the Thrashers to where it ended when we left in ’02, it grew tremendously.”

Ferraro began playing competitive hockey while based in Georgia but explained that in order to get enough teams into one league, the boundaries were extremely stretched.

“My league was the whole south-east of the United States,” he smiled, “So I was playing and every other weekend we were on the road and we’d go to Tennessee or North and South Carolina or Florida.”

“My first year the closest game was 45 minutes away but by the time we left it was 15 minutes away,” Ferraro said before giving a shout out to his old team, “The Atlanta Junior Thrashers based out of the Duluth IceForum where the Thrashers practice!”

An outsider might find it surprising that a kid could develop into a top NHL draft prospect when his playing roots began to grow in a market not known for producing hockey players. While Ferraro understands that thought pattern, he’s quick to point out the differences his surroundings provided him that he used to his benefit.

“The hockey wasn’t best of caliber but I got to play and I played a lot,” he said, “I got to play with some older guys so it kind of put me in my place. I could skate around most of the guys but if we got into the corner they could be pushing me off so it kind of taught me how to be a bit shifty and how to use my balance to bounce off of guys.”

Four years after his father played his last NHL shift, at the end of a playoff rental stint in St. Louis, Landon was drafted into the CHL. The Red Deer Rebels grabbed Ferraro with the second overall pick in the 2006 Bantam Draft. In 2006-07, he played 25 games for the Vancouver NW Giants of the BC Major Midget League. He also had a four-game cup of coffee with the Rebels.

However it was in 2007-08 that Ferraro played his rookie season amidst a ton of hype and pressure and had what he called “a learning experience of a year.” In speaking with Ferraro it doesn’t take a person long to realize that he’s mature beyond his years, which is clearly an advantage of being the son of a former player who is now a well-respected TV analyst. That maturity comes across in his even speech, mannerisms and sincere but lighthearted self-criticism. 
 
When asked how he felt the current season had gone for him on a personal level in light of the fact Red Deer will again miss the post season, Ferraro was quick to own up to mistakes he’d made in his past.

“I think I’ve personally done really well, especially compared to last year when my numbers weren’t as good as I wanted them to be,” Ferraro said, “I can admit that coming into the league as a 16-year-old, just being drafted and coming in, you kind of think you’re a lot better than you are.”

The heavy dose of reality he was exposed to as a WHL rookie could have had a negative effect on him but Ferraro chose to rise to the challenge and dedicated himself over the summer to prepare for the current campaign.

Yeah, it really matured me; I learned what I can and can’t do on the ice,” he agreed, “I came into this year working hard and just making sure that I train myself well enough. I think I’ve done pretty well although I’ve hit a bit of a skid here but I think I’m coming back pretty well.

A year older and a year wiser, Ferraro looks back at last season and knows how and why he struggled and having identified his flaws, has been able to improve this season.

“[As a 16-year-old rookie] you’re not just playing against other kids in their first year or guys a year older than you, you’re playing against men,” he said, “It taught me to use my linemates a lot better, use my feet and try to make the quick and easy play instead of taking my time and going for the highlight reel play.”

As a rookie, Ferraro recorded 13 goals and 24 points in 53 games. The rookie leader that same year was Brayden Schenn of the Brandon Wheat Kings who had more goals than Ferraro had points.

This year Ferraro has managed 36 goals and 54 points in total, tops on his team and ninth in the WHL for goal scoring. However, when asked what he felt his single greatest asset was he named two traits and neither one was his ability to find the twine.

“I’m a player that really uses his head and his speed,” he described, “I’m not the biggest guy on the ice so to make sure that one – I don’t get killed, and two – I’m able to be effective on the ice I have to use my speed and go wide and use my head to get out of sticky situations and get the puck on other guy’s tape. I think I’m just a hard-working guy.”

The natural question from fans and media alike is in how father and son may be similar as players.

“We’ve heard this question [a lot]; my dad’s gotten asked it and I’ve been asked it and so we’ve discussed it and we think the only thing that’s really the same with us is our knowledge of the game and being able to see stuff on the ice and being able around the crease to get our stick on pucks,” he said before smiling as he prepared a few barbs at his father’s expense, “Other than that, he was a quick player but he wasn’t overly fast and I have my speed and I can actually shoot it from outside the circle! He had to be right in tight to get it although I did see one of his slap shot goals from the top of the circles which was pretty amazing.”

So if people shouldn’t expect to see another version of the “Big Ball of Hate”, who does Landon hear himself being compared to most often?

“I’m not to sure… I’ve heard David Krejci a bit but… hey, I’ll take it!” he laughed. “I think comparisons are hard, everyone does everything differently and you see things that you want to be able to do so you take things from different people as much as you can. I’m just trying to progress as much as I can.”    

Earlier this year he was one of 40 players who took part in the annual CHL Top Prospects Game. Ferraro received mixed reviews on his performance during the actual game but he was one of the highlights during the skills competition. Overall he said the experience was good although one could tell he wasn’t a huge fan of the event.

“It was a good experience,” he allowed, “I’ve never really seen all the other guys, some of them at U18 camp but seeing everyone on the same ice it’s pretty amazing. Getting to see Tavares and Kadri’s hands and I had Matt Duchene on my team and I always knew he was a good player but he’s also one of the nicest kids around. It’s nice to get to know some of them because we’re going to be around each other quite a bit as we grow up.”

While the stands are full to the rafters with scouts and NHL executives who are on hand to compare each players to the other 39 on the ice, it’s also an opportunity for the players themselves to take a look around and gauge things. According to Ferraro, the format of the game makes any sort of comparisons a pretty difficult task to perform.

“I think I did pretty good but it’s the hardest game to play in simply because… I come into the game with [Red Deer’s] system and this type of play and then there are different guys on the team who come from more run-and-gun teams,” he explained, “So everyone is quickly trying to figure out their linemates and what they’re going to be doing out on the ice; you’ll turn one way and he’ll be going the completely opposite direction on you!”

While the Top Prospects Game might be the biggest single night event during the draft year of a player, it’s fair to say that Ferraro thinks it might be a bit over-hyped although it does have some usefulness. 

“I think it’s good for [scouts] with the skills competition so they can see who can do what,” He said, “I did the fastest skater and I always knew [Cody] Eakin was fast but I didn’t know that he was that fast! I just barely beat him but I think it was good because it showed his speed and my speed but the game itself I think is too scrambly to try and figure out who shows up and puts on a good performance for the scouts.”

Ferraro won the fastest skater event with a blistering time of 14.009 seconds, a mere 2/100ths faster than Cody Eakin of the Swift Current Broncos. HF asked Ferraro if he was the odds-on favorite before the event started.

“I don’t think so!” he laughed, “That was the only event that I wanted to do because I know that I can skate and even if you mess up a little you can kind of figure it out and get back on track. If you’re on the breakaway relay and mess up you’re kind of hooped! I think everyone knew I had good feet but I don’t know if they knew I could move that quick.”

The cyclical nature of major junior hockey should suggest that the Red Deer Rebels, out of the playoffs for the second year in a row, should begin an up turn next year and potentially be a top team the season after. Thinking about next year doesn’t really make the current scenario feel a whole lot better though.

“We’re on the right track and it’s hard to say when there are still games left that ‘we’ll be better next year’ but we will be,” Ferraro said. “We’ll have pretty much the same exact team plus we’ll have Ryan Nugent-Hopkins coming in. We’re going to have our goalies back and hopefully we’ll have a team that can take advantage of those clubs that are losing a lot of their guys.”

Nugent-Hopkins was the 1st overall pick in the 2008 Bantam Draft and like Ferraro in his rookie year, will join the team next season under heaps of pressure and expectations. It didn’t help that he scored six points in five games with the Rebels this year either.

“I hope everyone takes a step back on him because he’s going to be an unreal player even at 16 but everyone has to make sure that they realize that he is just going to be 16 and he can only improve the team so much,” Ferraro warned.

That will be one way that Ferraro can be a benefit to the team and specifically for Nugent-Hopkins. Having been through the experience before he can act as a mentor of sorts not unlike Brandon Sutter was for young Rebels players before he turned pro with the Carolina Hurricanes. Ferraro is already looked to for statistical leadership but next year he’ll be expected to be a leader in other ways too. He says he’s already trying to do his part in that regard.

“We all know our roles and I know when to speak up in the room and when to keep quiet and let the older guys kind of take control,” Ferraro said, “Next year, like you said, it will be my third year and I’ll have been in the games and experienced two full years in the league so it will be good to get a hold of some of the young guys because I know exactly what they’ll be going through. I know from last year that you can just get kind of comfortable and you stop and plateau for ten games or so. Just making sure that everyone keeps moving and just try and get our team into a playoff spot next year and make some damage.”

Ferraro is listed as the 13th best North American skater for 2009 by NHL Central Scouting in their mid-term rankings while International Scouting Services has his slotted 18th overall for the June event.