Despite being passed over in the NHL Draft, even passed over in the WHL Bantam Draft, J.C. Lipon leads the Western Hockey League in scoring and is a driving force behind the Kamloops Blazers' torrid start.
Fresh from a season that put his name on the map in the Western circuit, Lipon has quickly become one of the league’s most noteworthy attractions. He features prominently on a Kamloops' top line with Montreal Canadiens prospect Tim Bozon and Colorado Avalanche pick Colin Smith that has run roughshod over WHL foes at every pass. The Blazers haven’t lost a regulation game yet and feature the top four scorers in the WHL as of this writing.
“Everything is just coming together,” Lipon said of his club’s supreme record to start the year. “We have a lot of experience, lots of character in the room, [and the] young guys, especially on the back-end, are really buying in.”
For Lipon, the success, both team and personal, can only serve to help him gain notoriety – and importantly, promises of an NHL future. He did garner NHL-level attention from a few teams over the summer and ultimately accepted an invite to the Colorado Avalanche's camp before the much-ballyhooed work stoppage stymied Lipon’s chances to strut his stuff in front of pro personnel.
It just adds more fuel to the fire for Lipon who has proven that a lot of his naysayers were not soothsayers.
“I just wasn’t ready at the [right] times I guess. There are always some late bloomers out there,” Lipon told Hockey’s Future. “I never really had any doubts, but there were some things I couldn’t control. When coaches did give me opportunities, I just went for it.”
When asked what was the difference between J.C. Lipon at the time of the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the J.C. Lipon of today, the answer was as sure as his backdoor one-timer: “Confidence.” The forward, who styles himself after the rugged T.J. Oshie, has it, and that means puck-retrieving defensemen have less of it.
Kamloops Blazers Head Coach Guy Charron says that with Lipon's added confidence, "He's now taking his game to another level. JC is a hard-working and dedicated individual. I don't think he ever expected this to happen…to be the face of junior hockey at this point, but it's a credit to him."
Industrious, truculent and a fine finisher, Lipon is on a streak hot enough to spark a five-alarm blaze, but admits that he’s far from a finished product.
“I have lots of little things to touch up on,” Lipon posits. “A big thing is consistency, playing good hockey in the defensive zone and just to keep getting better at everything.”
As if Coach Charron was standing there with a big cue card and an index finger whose point was unambiguous, the winger from Regina added, “Playing good in the defensive zone [allows] offensive chances to come.” Smart kid. After all, you can’t become the first 70-goal scorer in the WHL since Pavel Brendl if you’re confined to the dog house.
Lipon’s game isn’t susceptible to a lot of bad habits. He’s a hard worker, he thrives along the boards and he’s not afraid to pull the trigger on a quality scoring chance. The lone caveat: his hard-nosed play often rubs his opponents the wrong way and can cause fracases that require a linesman’s attention. Each of the past two seasons the feisty winger eclipsed the century mark in sin bin minutes, and currently he has the most penalty minutes among the top 25 WHL point-getters.
“I like to play hard, but I try not to fight quite as much [anymore]. I always try to take a guy with me,” Lipon slyly stated referring to coincidental minors.
Though for the Blazer forward, not all of his strengths were chiseled on the hockey rink. It was a not-so-frozen pond that garnered some of Lipon's attention throughout his childhood. He grew up an avid wakeboarder and was held in high regard among his peers throughout his youth.
“At the time, yeah, there was some hype behind it and I was doing pretty well,” Lipon recounts. “I got to hang out at the lake, I had sponsors and all but it just wasn’t the right choice in the end.”
Lipon, who credits wakeboarding for some of his core strength, balance and low center of gravity, turned to hockey almost full time at about 15 or 16 but still gets out on the lakes in the summer and enjoys it thoroughly, of course.
It just might be this summer that, after a long day of “melon grabs” and “air raleys”, J.C. Lipon will get the call that he’s shipping off to the National Hockey League.
"Off the Radar" is a monthly feature at Hockey's Future that focuses on players passed over in the NHL Draft that may be deserving of a second look.