Playing in juniors with the Niagara IceDogs, Carter Verhaeghe knows all about the world that awaits him as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 2013 third round draft pick said it’s a dream come true to be selected by his favorite NHL team, but he knows that dream is going to take some work.
“Oh yeah, I was a Leafs’ fan growing up,” Verhaeghe explained. “It’s pretty crazy. It was very surreal when I got called. It was just an honor to be drafted by the hometown team.”
“I grew up watching “Hockey Night in Canada” and watching the Leafs — they were my favorite team, so it was a really cool experience.”
Verhaeghe had to wait a little longer to be drafted, he feels, because of when he was born. With an August 14th birthdate, Verhaeghe just turned old enough to drink in Ontario. He was one of the youngest kids in his draft class.
“I don’t know if it’s helped or hurt my development, but it definitely set me back in the draft a little bit,” he said. “But it’s not anything because it doesn’t make a difference in the long run.
“I try not to notice. I’m used to playing against guys older than me all the time.”
Verhaeghe had a strong season last year, scoring 28 goals and racking up 82 points in 65 games. He signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Leafs in April and got to see action in a pair of AHL games. Participating in this year’s Leafs’ rookie tournament, Verhaeghe saw an opportunity to measure himself against his peers.
“It’s good to compare myself with players who are in the American League or those who are other, good high-end players to see where I’m at and see what I need to work on,” he said. “It definitely helps you get ready for main camp and get those legs under you.”
And now in his second year in the system, Verhaeghe said he feels more sure of his place.
“It’s definitely a lot different. You come in with a bit more confidence because you’ve done it before and know what to expect,” he said. “You try to come in and be a little more of a leader. You’re not as nervous.
“[Last year] I think after the first period and a bit you feel comfortable,” he said. “But this year I knew what to expect, what it was going to be like, and I was better prepared.”
Verhaeghe said there is a tremendous difference between what he experiences with the IceDogs and the Leafs — but, in the end, hockey’s hockey.
“It’s totally different. Niagara is junior and Toronto is the biggest franchise in the pros — it’s definitely a big step up. It’s a lot different the way they do things and the way they play hockey,” he said. “Coaches are coaches. It’s just different systems, but it’s easy to adapt because they’re doing a great job coaching us.”
And with his return to Niagara and the OHL for the 2014-15 season, Verhaeghe said he feels these experiences are going to pay dividends for the IceDogs, as well.
“There’s a bunch of guys on the team this year who are going to be drafted, so I can help them out, tell them what it’s like going to pro camp,” he said. “There’s lots you can bring back because it’s so much faster (in the NHL) and you can bring back that pace.
“For sure, (the OHL) slows it down a lot. You feel like you have the puck for a lot more time.”
And being drafted by the hometown club has its advantages, he explained. “It’s a little bit of pressure, but pressure isn’t always a bad thing,” Verhaeghe said. “It can definitely help you and motivate you to become a better player. You develop better.”
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