One doesn’t have to look far to find a potential pro comparable for Edmonton Oil Kings forward Brett Pollock. The 19 year old Sherwood Park, AB native actually rubbed shoulders with said comparable during the past two Dallas Stars‘ training camps – Jamie Benn.
It’s an optimistic comparable but one that Oil Kings assistant coach Ryan Marsh feels is valid at similar stages in their careers. He doesn’t suggest Pollock, a second round pick by the Stars in 2014, will become the elite player that Benn currently is, but notes the potential is there. Benn, after all, was an unheralded fifth round pick in 2007. Last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner was a tall, lanky junior who needed to add strength to his frame, much like Pollock, who, on skates is at least 6’4”.
“He’s not an overly physical guy so to say he’s a power forward probably wouldn’t be the perfect way to put it,” said Marsh, prior to a weekday game against the Kootenay Ice. “Right now he’s got lots of similarities to a Jamie Benn at the same level.
“If you were to look at them in their junior days, they’re similar body types. They’re big and lanky and able to create with their reach, skill and vision.”
Benn also played for a deep Kelowna Rockets team, one that featured Mikael Backlund, Brandon McMillan, Tyson Barrie and Tyler Myers. In 2013-14, Pollock’s second full season with the Oil Kings, he won a Memorial Cup alongside Henrik Samuelsson, Curtis Lazar and Griffin Reinhart. Pollock scored 55 points in that breakthrough campaign and was an emerging star in the postseason, when he scored 11 goals in 21 games. For a team loaded with future pros, he was one of the key contributors en route to the Memorial Cup win.
Last season, Pollock improved his point total to 62, playing more minutes with the departure of several impact forwards. This year it might be a bit much to say the Oil Kings offensive success hinges on his play, but he is far and away the driving force.
“By all accounts he’s our most skilled forward, he’s able to create a tone of our offense from his skill and ability to make plays,” said Marsh. “He has continued to do that this year.”
But he is without the same cast as in previous seasons. So while his 16 points through 17 games is an impressive personal statistic, it hasn’t been enough to keep the Oil Kings afloat in the WHL’s improved Eastern Conference. Pollock’s linemate, Lane Bauer, is second on the team in scoring with 15 points, but nobody else has more than nine points and for an Oil Kings’ squad that is left trying to get out of the conference’s lower reaches with a 5-9-3-0 record.
For his part, Pollock still believes in his team, but he is aware of the offensive burden that falls on his shoulders.
“The team isn’t exactly where we wanted but I’m trying to find my game,” he explained. “I think I’ve rounded out a couple things, got better defensively and developed more of a 200-foot game.”
That was one of his goals entering this season, particularly knowing it will likely be his last in junior. To be successful in the pro game, he needs to get stronger and become more adept in his own zone. It is not something that happens overnight, but he is improving and has earned a role on the team’s penalty killing unit this season.
He also came into this season with a little more self assurance after attending the Stars’ training camp the past two seasons.
“Going up against guys like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, it’s a little intimidating, they’re well respected players and great players as well. My second year, I had a little more confidence and strength (and) during the summer I tried to put on some weight and muscle.”
Both Marsh and Pollock agree that the difference maker in his game could be in his defensive zone efforts, particularly in regard to strength along the walls. He has to be able to win those one-on-one battles at the junior level if he is going to have any success in doing so at the pro level, whether it be in the AHL or NHL.
“As a big winger, I need to win those battles along the wall and get pucks out of the zone. It’s an overlooked skill I think in the game of hockey,” Pollock noted.
Marsh adds both pace and consistency as areas in which Pollock has and can continue to improve.
“He likes to slow it down a lot, which can be a good thing at times, but there needs to be a balance. There needs to be a time where he can speed it up as well. And then just consistent compete – battle on loose pucks, battle on scrums out of the corner. If he could just become consistent in those areas, then he becomes a real nice package for Dallas or their farm team down the road.
“We’ve seen some big strides in those areas certainly since the start of the year.”
It’s not just his coaches that have taken notice of that improvement. Despite scoring 25 and 32 goals in the previous two seasons and being a second round pick, Pollock has never been invited to a Hockey Canada camp at any level. He scored just eight goals in 34 games in his only year of midget hockey and was a fifth round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft, so he is a late bloomer. But recently he was named to the WHL team for the Canada/Russia Super Series which begins in Kelowna, BC on November 9th.
Those games provide Hockey Canada’s management team for the World Junior Championship an opportunity to see what players can do against elite international competition. Players on the bubble can make lasting impressions or, in Pollock’s case, players largely unheralded to this point can give management something to think about.
“It feels good,” Pollock said of the nod. “Being selected to that team is a good feeling. There’s a lot of elite players there and a lot of guys that can make plays. It was one of my goals this year. I had never been to a Hockey Canada camp before so I’m excited to show what I could do.”
At this point he is a long shot, but should he make the team he would follow in the footsteps of Lazar, who played in 2014 and again last year when the Ottawa Senators loaned him to Team Canada. It would be fitting, not just because the two were former teammates, but also because the two bunked together as roommates.
Seeing what Lazar has done in just about 18 months since leaving Edmonton has certainly given Pollock a blueprint – and inspiration – to follow.
“Playing with him and living with him I got to see what he does. He has been a pro for a couple years now and even in junior he acted like a pro – his off-ice habits, his routine,” he explained. “To be around him all the time that rubbed off on me and I saw what it takes and what I need to do to be accomplished like he is. I lucked out being able to live with him.”
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