Chances are pretty good that NHL teams will tell us that every draft selection they make is well thought out. The player they choose is the player they had hoped to secure. And after all, it would be unfair to the athlete to suggest a late round pick was simply a formality.
But one has to wonder what goes on in the minds of the players, those taken very late in the proceedings. The NHL Draft stretches out over two days, producing a lengthy wait for almost all but the first rounders.
One such player is Tate Olson of the Prince George Cougars. The 6’3”, 175-pound defenseman was selected in the seventh round, 210th overall, by the Vancouver Canucks at the festivities in Sunrise, Florida. For the record, he was the second-last player selected. Olson, of course, did not make the trip to be there in person, but he certainly had his mind on the 2015 NHL Draft last June.
“I think Vancouver got a real steal with where they drafted him,” said Cougars head coach Mark Holick in an interview with Hockey’s Future. “And certainly he’s made some noise and been noticed. He went to Vancouver’s camp in Prince George and I thought he looked great. He did a lot of good things.”
Holick is perhaps an old school hockey type, a hard player back in the day and a demanding bench boss today. He is self-deprecating and willingly admits to occasionally lacking a “filter”. In many ways, it is actually refreshing. Holick speaks his mind. That being said, he likes what Olson has contributed to the Cougars this season.
“For Tate, it’s vision, skating, making the right play and getting the puck to the forwards at the time it should be given,” Holick said. “Young kids, when they get in trouble, they tend to hang onto the puck too much.
“With Tate, we’ve been trying to say when you get it, move it, then get up ice and support the rush. Be part of the offensive attack all the time. When you defend, defend hard. He’s not a killer by any means, but he’s got good size and he’s strong. He can defend hard and he’s got a good stick. I think he’s only scratching the surface in terms of how good he can be.”
Olson, from Saskatoon, is part of a core group of five players in Prince George that arrived in BC’s northern capital via the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft. The third pick among those five – he was chosen in the second round, 24th overall – Olson is joined on the current roster by forwards Jansen Harkins (2nd), Brad Morrison (7th), Aaron Boyd (43rd) and Shane Collins (62nd). If the Cougars make some noise during the postseason, it might just be the beginning of some big things for an organization that has struggled for much of the past decade.
An indication that things are improving in Prince George, the Cougars saw four players, including Olson, chosen at the 2015 NHL Draft. Harkins (WPG) was selected in the second round, 47th overall. Forward Brad Morrison (NYR, 4 – 113) and defenseman Sam Ruopp (CBJ, 5 – 129) also heard their names called. Jesse Gabrielle (BOS, 5 – 105), who was acquired by the Cougars last August from the Regina Pats, was also drafted in June.
According to Holick, Olson will be a big part of any future success. The coaching staff will also play an important role, doing their best to manage the minutes that a potentially dominant rearguard plays from game to game.
“He’s having a good year statistically,” Holick said. “He’s our quarterback on the power play from the back end and he’s a guy who plays on our penalty kill. He plays 5-on-5, a lot of key minutes for us.
“For us, it’s being able to manage those minutes. When Tate gets close to 30 minutes, then things maybe start to wander a bit. If we can keep him in the 23 to 26 minutes range if we can, anything over that, he maybe gets a little tired and then the mistakes come.
“We have six veteran defensemen and Tate can play his minutes and be a very effective player for us,” Holick continued. “He plays in every situation. I have no reservations about putting him out at any time. He’s a guy we depend on and a guy I trust in key situations.”
It’s safe to say that Olson, who will celebrate his 19th birthday on March 21st, comes from good stock. His father Arley was well-known across Saskatchewan as a young player and parlayed his minor hockey success into a hockey journey through the NCAA (North Dakota) and the CIS (Saskatchewan).
Olson played in the 2013 Telus Cup at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario with the Saskatoon Contacts, who dropped the bronze medal game by a 3-2 count to Laval. No less than 10 players from that Saskatchewan AAA Midget Hockey League team’s roster went on to play in the WHL.
Olson, who is often paired with Shane Collins, is a big, rangy defenseman with good offensive instincts. He has become an integral contributor in both the defensive and attacking zones. Now in his third full season in Prince George, he has scored nine times and added 38 assists in 67 games, doubling his output from last year. A deep playoff run in the WHL this season will see Olson inch closer and closer to the 200-game plateau.
Below is this writer’s chat with the Cougars’ Tate Olson.
Follow Glen Erickson on Twitter via @glenerickson51