The draft year is an exciting time for any hockey player on the road to becoming an NHL prospect. From scouts in the stands to tournaments and rankings, all culminating in the big event in June, the whole year is a whirlwind of activity as players show off their skills and hope to hear their name called.
For Ottawa 67's forward Sean Monahan, his draft year has been no exception. If anything, this year has been even more of a rollercoaster than normal as Monahan has already faced a litany of personal successes and failures and still has a few more months of hockey yet to play.
Monahan's season began in August, when he was selected to play for Canada at the Canada/Russia Challenge.
"It was a great experience," says Monahan, "I had a lot of fun and I think I learned a lot from that. We went over to Russia first. It was a bit of a different place with a different culture, so it was cool to experience that. Playing Russia in Russia was awesome. And then coming back over here to play in Halifax, to be back in Canada felt good and coming out with the win was great."
As one of the youngest members of the team, Monahan filled an offensive role and helped Canada win the series with two goals and four points over the course of the four games.
"I thought I played solid. I worked my way up the lineup, I started on one of the lower lines and I worked my way up. I earned my ice time and I was proud of myself for being able to do that."
Soon afterwards, Monahan found himself back with the 67's, returning to the team for his third year in the OHL. But it was a far different Ottawa team that he came back to. After finishing as one of the top teams in the league last season and driving deep into the playoffs, Ottawa said goodbye to many of their veteran stars over the off-season and looked to begin to rebuild and retool.
Coming off a year that saw him score 33 goals and finish with 78 points in 62 games, Monahan was tasked to fill a leadership role for the club, in addition to the usual offensive expectations. Unfortunately, the club got off to a poor start with just four wins to their credit by the end of October after 14 games of play.
November brought more bad news for both Monahan and the 67's. In a game against the Plymouth Whalers, Monahan delivered a hit to the head of Whalers' captain Colin MacDonald that left MacDonald crumpled behind the net.
"The puck was in the corner, in Plymouth's end and I came in on the forecheck," explains Monahan, "The defenseman was leaning forward a bit and I went to hit him and got a little bit off balance. I put my arm up to brace myself so I didn't fly into the glass and my elbow caught his head and unfortunately he got hurt on the play."
The hit forced MacDonald out of the lineup for almost a month and the OHL came down hard on Monahan, suspending him for ten games.
The suspension came to an end just in time for Monahan to head to Calgary for Hockey Canada's World Junior Selection Camp. Having not played in a competitive game in three weeks, Monahan found he was unable to replicate his good fortune from the summer, and when the roster was finalized, he was on the outside looking in.
"In the summer, it was a different style of hockey. The compete level obviously rises in the winter time, it's more game on. Going to the camp was tough for me. I was off for ten games and I wasn't in the game for a while because of my suspension, so it was different but it was still a great experience and I learned from it and hopefully I can get the result I want next year."
Returning to Ottawa, the 67's continued to struggle and retool, trading away a number of their remaining veterans. After the team sent captain Cody Ceci to the Owen Sound Attack, Monahan was named the new captain of the 67's.
"Obviously it's a different year," says Monahan, "We lost a lot of guys from last year and we knew coming into the year that it was going to be different, so I was ready for that. I think a lot of guys on the team were playing roles at the start of the season that they just weren't used to and the minutes that they were playing this year. Unfortunately, I don't think we were getting the results we needed to get at the start of the season so just recently at the trade deadline we traded away a lot of our big guns and our top guys to get some younger guys to come in and have a good future in Ottawa."
Presently, the 67's have the worst record in the OHL with just 12 wins in 45 games. Monahan has played in 35 of those games and has 16 goals and 49 points to lead the team in scoring. His totals also place him among the top 20 scorers in the OHL, although he would undoubtedly be much higher had he not missed those ten games due to the suspension. When talking about his season so far, Monahan sees room for improvement.
"I think I can be better and I want to be better, so if I continue to work towards that and do the little things that I want to do to get better, I think it's going to help me out a lot."
The changes with the 67's this year have also presented their own set of challenges for Monahan, as he explains.
"Every weekend this year, I've had different linemates. So it has been a tough year for me. I think it's something I can build on and it's going to make me a better player down the road."
Currently in Halifax for the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, Monahan is competing as a member of Team Orr, which reunites him with Kerby Rychel, a left winger for the Windsor Spitfires. Rychel and Monahan previously played together at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, helping Canada win a gold medal.
"Me and Rychel are good buddies, so it's pretty cool to have him here with me."
Listed at 6'2" and 193 pounds, Monahan describes himself first and foremost as a leader.
"I'm a leader on the team and I try to play the two-way game, I try to play it from my zone out and just build from that. If I get a chance in the offensive end, I don't like to give the puck away in there, so I think I'm good with the puck and good at setting up plays," says Monahan.
He also emphasizes his desire to continue to improve his game, going on to say that, "I want to get faster and stronger. That's something I'm going to do and continue to do over the next years in hockey. I also want to get a better shot and be able to shoot from different areas of the ice."
Born in the last few months of 1994, Monahan has an extra year of junior hockey under his belt, which he views as a huge bonus when it comes to learning the game.
"Having two years in junior before the draft is a big advantage," says Monahan. "You have a lot of experience within those two years but you're still a young guy so there are a lot of older guys on your team who you can learn from. That really helped me out throughout my first two years. In Ottawa, we had a lot of guys who were great guys. In my first year, we had (Thomas) Nesbitt and he taught me a lot and then (Tyler) Toffoli, Smitty (Dalton Smith) and Princey (Shane Prince), they're all great guys and I learned a lot from them, so it was great to have those two years."
In the recently released mid-season rankings from the NHL's Central Scouting Service, Monahan slots in at fourth among North American skaters, but he insists that he tries not to get tied up with draft speculation.
"I just go to the rink every day and I want to get better. So as long as I do that and not focus on where I might go, but rather how I play. I try get better every day and not think about the rankings or whatnot. I just come in, play my game and try to play the right way, everyday."
In any case, Monahan can be excused if he hopes his time from now until the draft is less rocky than the first half of the season.
Follow Kevin Forbes on Twitter via @kforbesy