By Ryan Van Horne
Moncton Wildcats center Bruce Graham is reaching new heights — and not just because he’s 6’6”. Graham, a lanky, smooth-skating center with soft hands, has rocketed up the draft rankings and, this month, moves into International Scouting Services’ first round.
Graham is a late birthday and a late bloomer in scouting parlance. Born in December of1985, he only played a handful of games in major junior as a 16-year-old. He struggled to get ice time during his first full major junior season with the QMJHL Moncton Wildcats, but has assumed a greater role this season as he’s earned the confidence of coach Christian Larue.
“He’s a very good kid,” said Larue. “He’s very coachable and willing to spend time on the ice. If you would let him skate for five hours a day, he would. It’s amazing. It makes him a dream come true for coaches.”
Graham has proven to be more responsible on the ice this season and has proven to be very adept at taking faceoffs. Larue uses him for about 75 per cent of the Wildcats’ defensive zone draws. “He’s excellent on faceoffs,” Larue said.
Graham earned an invitation to the CHL Prospects Game held in London back in January where he made an impression by scoring a goal in the game and winning the 60-foot dash. “I was pretty surprised about that,” Graham said.
“He’s always had a good skating stride, but never thought of himself as a speed merchant,” indicated Larue. “Once he gets a head of steam, though, Graham can keep up with anybody. He has a good slapshot and his wrist shot is pro caliber.”
Moncton Director of Scouting Peter Nevin said Graham has proven this year that he’s a complete player, as he’s been used on penalty killing and the power play. He’s getting more ice time and hasn’t hit the wall this year like he did last year. His stamina is much better this year because he dedicated himself to an off-season training regimen.
“I worked hard over the summer getting in shape,” Graham said. “That really helped a lot.”
Nevin said it’s very difficult to compare Graham to a player in the NHL because there are very few big men who have his finesse skills. Nevin said his style is similar to that of Jean Beliveau, Jean Ratelle or Ron Francis. Graham, though, said he patterns his play after modern-day superstar Joe Thornton.
“I can’t compare myself to him, but I like his style of play,” Graham said.
To hear Nevin describe his array of skills, however, it’s not much of a stretch.
“He has very good hands and fabulous vision,” Nevin enthused. “He’s very good at feathering passes. He’s got to play with one guy who at all times has to expect he’s going to get passes at any time. He’s got a great wrist shot and he’s good in traffic. That’s his forte. He’s great on the give and go and is very good at cycling the puck.”
Despite his big frame, Graham is not an overly physical player, but he uses his size well to help him do what he wants. Graham weights 220 pounds and has prototypical pro size.
“If he keeps training hard and improves his lean body mass, he could add 20 pounds in the next couple of years,” Larue said.
One of the wildcards in the draft, Graham is a risk, but his ceiling has scouts drooling. With his package of size and skill he could easily slip into the first round.