Spend a few minutes with Prince George Cougars management and it won’t be long before the conversation turns to the contributions of veteran forward Nick Drazenovic (STL). In fact, the superlatives come early and often.
“Nick’s contributions have been huge,” said general manager Dallas Thompson. “It’s his third year full season with us, he’s been a very good player for us all the way through. He’s a local guy and he puts in a lot of work off the ice, too. On the ice he’s a pretty special player.
“And he’s been very durable. He started as a 15-year-old, we called him up and he played 14 games for us the first season. He the kind of guy who’s been in the lineup the majority of the nights and he’s been very consistent all the way through right from 15 to where he is now at 18.”
Through 51 games this season, Drazenovic has scored 22 goals and 24 assists. He’s become a leader by example for the Cougars, a team desperate for a deep playoff run.
“Nick has been a go-to guy for us all season long,” says head coach Mike Vandecamp. “He’s still a relatively young man in the WHL and I think his defensive play was where we wanted to focus first to help him become an even more complete player.”
The St. Louis Blues made Drazenovic their sixth round pick in the 2005 entry draft. Since then, the selection has raised some eyebrows.
“They seem to be very happy with him,” said Thompson in reference to his conversations with the Blues. “And in talking to other guys, you know, Nick got picked in the sixth round and he’s a very good player to have been picked in the sixth round.
“I think that makes him a very good pick for St. Louis. He’s going to take some time, he’s not one of those guys who’s likely to go up right away, but with his effort and work ethic, we’re pretty confident he’ll get there.
“Getting drafted is maybe step one, but now we have to help to get him there,” added Vandecamp. “He’s working very hard. I still believe his top end skill level offensively will be his bread and butter, but we all know you have to be a complete player to play at the professional level and that’s what he’s working hard to do.”
Hockey’s Future spoke with Drazenovic in Kelowna recently, following the Cougars 4-3 shootout victory over the Rockets. The 6’, 170-pounder scored with seven seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime.
HF: A huge win for you guys tonight. These division games are so important.
ND: It was one of those games. We were up 2-0 and fortunate enough to work one out at the end there. We worked so hard with the extra man and I shot it at the net because I knew there wasn’t much time left. I guess if you work hard all night, you sometimes get bounces like that.
HF: Who are your linemates this season?
ND: Actually, just a few games ago I started playing with Myles Zimmer and Evan Fuller (eligible 2006). They’re very defensive-minded and very solid players. Before I was playing with Eric Hunter and Colin Patterson and we were a pretty fast and offensively gifted, but I like playing with Zimmer and Fuller, too. It seems very simple, you know, it seems to be working well right now.
HF: Kind of a unique situation for you, playing junior hockey in your hometown. Not too many guys get that kind of opportunity.
ND: It’s unbelievable. When I first got drafted, I sure didn’t expect to get picked by the Prince George Cougars, but it’s worked out incredible and I can’t say enough good things about it. Staying at home was perfect for me, my family’s great. Even the fans are very supportive and that’s a real bonus.
HF: You’ve played over 200 games in the WHL. How has the style of play changed over the years you’ve been with the Cougars?
ND: Actually a few of us were talking about this a few months ago. When I first came in, the play was a lot more scrappy, more fights. Maybe you could say it was more like the old NHL? Every team had a tough guy or two, but now everybody has to be able to play. You can’t have a guy just sitting on the bench waiting to fight. The style of play has changed, maybe it’s just a slight change, but I think it’s noticeable.
HF: What do you see as your strengths?
ND: I think I see the offensive style of game very well. I see the ice well and feel like I make plays.
HF: Is there anything specific you and coach Mike Vandecamp are working on to improve?
ND: Well, Mike is really helping me to become a better defensive player and it’s really changing my game. It’s great. It’s what I need to do and what I have to work on. If Mike wasn’t helping me with this, it would hinder my career.
HF: What was your impression of playing in the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge games in Saskatoon and Regina?
ND: It was an unbelievable experience. We were treated like gold. Just to be named to a team like that, some of those names, you know, were on World Junior teams and it was incredible to play against the Russians. It was a lot of fun.
HF: Have you been in contact with St. Louis this season?
ND: Oh yeah, I talk to (Scout) Craig Channell all the time and he made a point to find me over the holidays just to wish me a Merry Christmas. The way they’ve treated me so far, they seem like a first class organization and I’ve heard great things about them, too. I’m looking forward to my career with them.
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