Corban Knight is the definition of a rising star.
A year ago at this time, Knight was coming off his first midget AAA season and a playoff run with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Okotoks Oilers. He wasn’t just passed over in the 2008 NHL draft, he wasn’t even on the radar.
But the 2008-09 season was the turning point in Knight’s hockey career.
After going undrafted in the WHL draft as well, Knight turned heads in his only season with the UFA Bisons in 2007-08, forcing the Oilers to give him a full-time shot.
This past season, Knight not only turned heads, but snapped necks with his speed and creativity, notching 34 goals and 38 assists in 61 AJHL games.
His superb season has earned him a full ride to the University of North Dakota in 2010 and has him on a flight to this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft in Montreal as the 64th-ranked North American skater by Central Scouting and the 147th ranked player overall by International Scouting Services.
The 6-foot-1 180-pound center also tested well at last month’s draft combine, attended by the top 100 prospects, further enforcing the fact that he has become a legit NHL prospect.
"Overall, I had a really good time there," Knight said of the combine. "I had a really good scores at the fitness testing and I thought my interviews went well. I got to meet a lot of new people and I really enjoyed the whole experience."
In today’s demanding world, pyschological testing is something teams are often looking at just as much as the ability with a hockey stick in hand.
"Right after we were done the v02 test we had to go straight to a computer and do a pyschological test," Knight said. "It was definitely a different element."
While the prospects are clearly in their element during the hockey-related tests, the psych tests are a whole new ball game. There is some trepidation when no one knows what the tests are going to say.
"That’s the thing, we didn’t really know," Knight said. "They don’t tell you what they’re looking for.
"Once I did it I was happy and confident with it."
One of the tests included a guy holding a ball upside down with his arms twisted.
"You had to figure out if (the ball) was in the left hand or the right hand," Knight laughed. "It was definitely different."
Even after Knight’s terrific season where he was relied upon heavily and even saw time quarterbacking the Oilers’ power play, he is still a bit overwhelmed.
"It’s pretty surreal for me," the 18-year-old said. "I don’t think I could have predicted this happening."
Coming off a 65-point season with the Bisons in 2007-08, Knight held his own early last season, which helped him gain confidence.
"Coming into the season I didn’t know what to expect," he said. "It was my first season of junior hockey and we had a lot of new guys on the team.
"There was definitely a learning curve for me but looking back I’m happy with my season."
While Knight will return to the Oilers once again this season before heading to North Dakota in 2010, he knows he will have another learning curve to overcome once he suits up for the Fighting Sioux.
"They have such a great hockey program there and they’ve had some great players come out of that program and they have a chance to win every year," Knight said.
"It’s just an unbelievable place to play hockey."
North Dakota beat out Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Boston, Cornell and Michigan State for Knight’s services.
Knight will return to dominate the AJHL in 2009 and take on an even bigger role with the Oilers, according to Okotoks head coach Dan MacDonald.
"They don’t think he’s ready to go; they think he needs another year with us," MacDonald said. "He’s a very offensive player for starters, and he’s got a gift around the net.
"He has to get stronger. He has to get quicker to the puck. He has to drive the net harder. He’s still a young guy and sometimes he makes cute little moves when he has to go straight ahead. He got better as the season went on."
Knight will be heading to the draft this weekend with his parents.
"It’s one of those things where hopefully I can be drafted in the second or third round, but I’m a pretty big hockey fan and I grew up watching the Eric Lindroses and the Sidney Crosbys get drafted," Knight said.
"I think it’s just too cool to pass up, even if I wasn’t going to be drafted."
It won’t be the first time Knight will have been sitting on a plane to Montreal this year, as the Canadiens already flew Knight in for some private pre-draft tests.
He said he has talked to about 12 teams so far.
Ross MacLean, head European and Western Canadian scout for ISS, said Knight possesses a lot of natural skill and the potential to be a top-six forward, but he needs to bring that package to the rink on a nightly basis.
"He’s got a lot of offensive potential," MacLean said. "He’s one of those guys that can be really creative and create out of tight space.
"He’s not overly gritty and it doesn’t always seem like he’s competing at his highest level. He’s got noticeable gears. But he doesn’t always have that going."
MacLean likes the fact that he will have two or three years to work on his competitiveness and other aspects of his game, such as faceoffs. But that could also be a reason why he may not be drafted until the fourth or fifth round this weekend.
"It takes so long for these guys to develop now," MacLean said. "They’re going to go to college for two or three years. A lot of teams are leaning towards the guys that are already (in college).
"I would have him probably around (rounds) four or five. I would be shocked if he didn’t get drafted. He could go earlier than we have him projected."
One of the pre-draft questions surrounding Knight is whether he would be a better fit at center or on the wing. Knight definitely sees himself as a centerman.
"If I was compare myself to a player, I’d probably say Eric Staal," Knight said. "I’m a bigger player and when I have the puck I feel I can make things happen.
"My strength would probably be my hockey sense. I think I break down the play well and I anticipate things well."
A long-time Vancouver Canucks fan after being born in Oliver, B.C., Knight would love to suit up for a Canadian team one day.
"Obviously, it would be cool if Vancouver picked me, but it would just be great to hear your name called by any Canadian team," he said. "As long as I get my name called on the 27th, I’ll be a happy camper."