The NHL Draft is a big night for the league and a monumental occasion for up-and-coming prospects. One weekend can validate a decade-plus of hard work and dedication – and not being picked by an organization can be devastating.
In the year leading up to the draft, all eyes are on the best 17- and 18-year-old hockey players in the world, and, despite any claims of not dwelling on it, prospects can’t ignore the reality of the situation they’re in. Every moment is an opportunity, and every decision is susceptible to criticism.
Cam Askew of the Moncton Wildcats knows a little – okay, a lot (more on that later) – about the difficult decisions of growing up as a budding hockey star, and the nerves that lead up to what could potentially be a life-changing weekend.
“It’s kind of hard to say I haven’t, but I try to think about it as little as I can,” the 2015 NHL Draft prospect told Hockey’s Future. “It’s always there in the back of your head – like I’m sitting up at night thinking about if I’m going to go, where I could end up.
“But you can’t worry about if the scouts are here or not; I just need to play my game and hopefully I’ll get drafted.”
It isn’t that simple, however; there are a multitude of decisions and discussions to be made and had that lead a player to where he is in his on-ice development. Had Askew’s first hockey commitment gone according to plan, the Boston native would likely be playing Junior A this season, awaiting an anticipated freshman campaign at Northeastern University.
That was a verbal commitment the now 6’3”, 202-pound winger made when he was 14 years old. Already carrying a big – and growing – frame at that age, Askew was a highly sought after product playing for St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, MA. It isn’t uncommon for verbal agreements to be broken, especially with the consistent lure of playing junior hockey in Canada en route to a quicker pro hockey arrival. So, about a year later, Askew had a change of plans.
“Being from Boston, (Boston University) was always my dream school to go to,” Askew said.
He had committed to BU while at Cushing Academy (HS), where, during the 2012-13 season, he scored 36 points in 32 games. By the time the 2013 QMJHL Entry Draft approached, it was widely known that Askew would be playing junior hockey and not going to either Massachusetts schools.
“It’s kind of tough when you’re 14 or 15 to plan out that much of your life.”
He was selected 11th overall in that draft by the Drummondville Voltiguers.
“I talked to my family and my agents a bit about major junior and how it’d be a good place for me to play. The best players in the NHL, most of them came from the CHL, and (this league) fits my style of game. Everyone from back home wants to play university, and that was my goal too, but I think the ultimate goal for everyone isn’t to play in the CHL or university – it’s to play in the NHL. It was a hard decision, but I think I made the right decision and I’m happy.”
After a relatively uneventful 16-year-old season with Drummondville, in which he scored just 16 points in 64 regular season games, Askew was dealt to the Wildcats, a team with a recent history of selecting and grooming American-born players. In addition to Askew, the team has four other American-born players, and selected eight in last year’s draft.
“I think you have to give a lot of credit to (Director of Hockey Operations and Scouting) Roger Shannon and his staff in that regard,” said Wildcats assistant coach Fabian Joseph. “They knew that we didn’t have a lot of high picks so they went state side and did great recruiting and scouting to see what players were available in the United States.”
One of those players is 100+-point producer Conor Garland, whom Askew had already known before coming to Moncton. Askew, a year younger than Garland, isn’t quite near the 18-year-old’s production level, but has put up a respectable 38 points in 56 games, and his size and potential as a physical, goal-scoring winger, is enough to entice scouts. He was ranked 79th among North American skaters on Central Scouting’s midterm rankings.
“It’s been good so far. I had kind of a slow start coming into a new organization, but I got hot toward the Christmas break and kind of got my confidence back.”
“It’s been good so far,” said Askew of his second QMJHL season. “I had kind of a slow start coming into a new organization, but I got hot toward the Christmas break and kind of got my confidence back.”
Through Dec. 10th, having played 29 games, Askew had recorded just 11 points. He had scored just five goals, two of which were with the man advantage. Since then, points have come more consistently; in fact, in his next seven games, he scored three goals and added 11 assists. On Dec. 18th against Cape Breton, Askew dished out five assists in a 10-5 win.
“He’s been playing real well for us,” Joseph added. “He’s a young guy, finding his way; his biggest thing is that he has to bring his ‘A’ game every night, and when he does that, he’s a real effective player for us.”
Askew carries the same faults that are associated with a myriad of junior-aged players, but his upside is obvious and his offensive ability is evident. He needs to improve his skating while refining his defensive-zone play, but, most importantly, the Wildcats want him to produce heading into the playoffs. After an unexpected first round playoff exit last season, the team, currently holding down first place in the Maritimes Division, is anticipating a lengthy postseason run.
“He is a big guy and he’s probably still growing, so it is an adjustment at such a young age to be that big – just his weight alone, he has to get used to his weight on the ice,” noted Joseph. “But he’s a real skilled guy … and we’re going to need him to do some big things for us down the stretch.”
Of course, the longer the Wildcats play into spring, the less time Askew has to stay up and ponder his draft status. And should they go deep into the playoffs, he’ll likely be a big part of the reason why.
Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7