Wise and mature are words that are rarely used in the same sentence when describing a college hockey freshman, but in the case of University of North Dakota forward Jonathan Toews it seems only fitting.
Toews (pronounced “Taves”) is ranked third on the NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings and could possibly go as the top overall pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft in June. In 42 appearances with the Fighting Sioux this season, he registered 39 points (22 goals, 17 assists), which included nine power play goals. He also finished third on the team in plus/minus with a +20.
The first half of his rookie season saw Toews post 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in 18 games. But it was his performance with Team Canada at the 2006 IIHF U-20 World Junior Championship back in December/January and his subsequent second half accomplishments with North Dakota that sent Toews’ draft stock skyrocketing.
The Winnipeg, MB native notched two points (both assists) in helping Canada to capture the gold medal at the WJC. His two assists came against Team Norway in preliminary round play. His size and passing ability were two characteristics that stood out in his performance with Team Canada.
Toews’ appearance and experience in the World Junior Championship benefited North Dakota greatly in the second half of the season as he helped the Fighting Sioux capture the Broadmoor Cup (WCHA Playoff Championship) as well as earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament. He posted 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in his final 24 games of the season. Along the way, Toews earned two WCHA Rookie of the Week honors. His most memorable performance came in the NCAA Tournament West Regional where he posted five points (two goals, three assists) in leading North Dakota to their second consecutive Frozen Four appearance and earning the Regional Tournament’s MVP honor.
Prior to his collegiate arrival, Toews played two years at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. In his final season (2004-05) at SSM, Toews amassed 110 points (48 goals, 62 assists) in 64 games. In 2005, he captained Canada’s Team Western to a gold medal at the World U-17 Tournament in Lethbridge, AB as well as earned tournament’s MVP honor.
In 2003, Toews was the top selection in the WHL Bantam Draft, taken by the Tri-City Americans. In an unprecedented move for a top CHL draft pick, he opted to go the NCAA route rather than the major junior route, choosing to attend the University of North Dakota.
“It was a long process and there were a lot of things to consider when I finally made my decision. It was really tough. I saw a few games and it came down to whether or not I wanted to play in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I felt that this was the best place for me and it helped out that it (UND) is close to home,” said Toews of his decision in an interview with Hockey’s Future during the World Junior Championships in Vancouver.
The North Dakota freshman can best be described as a budding power forward. He combines size, creative offensive prowess and an ultra-competitive style that makes him difficult to play against.
It is hard to point to just one or two qualities that makes Toews such a special player because he is immensely gifted in so many areas. He is instinctive and plays with a tremendous amount of poise, confidence and passion. He thinks and approaches the game like a seasoned veteran and at the same time can exude all of the exuberance of a child playing in his very first hockey game. Like any great player who strives to be the best that he can possibly be, Toews is also the consummate student of the game.
In an interview with Hockey’s Future just prior to the end of the season, North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol summed up his superb young player quite eloquently.
“I’d describe Jonathan as a complete hockey player. He’s extremely competitive. He has the size to become a very effective power forward but also has good puck poise and the ability to use the people around him. I really don’t think that there are any true weaknesses to his game. I think he’s a fairly complete player right now. I think it’s just a matter of him developing all the different parts of his game and raising his level of play.”
Two aspects about Toews that make him such an effective player is his ability to not only create plays but create space on the ice for his teammates as well. He also makes excellent use of his 6’2/195 lbs. frame and whatever space he has to work with, regardless of which zone he is in. While Toews is still is growing into his body, he possesses good physical strength and uses it to great advantage in his play along the boards, down low and in finishing his checks.
As good as Toews is offensively, he is almost equally as good defensively. His great on-ice vision, hockey sense and ability to adapt quickly allow him to play in virtually any type of situation and rarely is he found making the so-called “rookie mistakes”.
Toews is a smooth powerful skater with good speed. While he may not be the fastest skater, he does utilize his skating ability quite well in driving relentlessly to the net and transitioning from offense to defense and vice versa.
Another attribute that makes Toews such a highly-regarded player is his versatility. While he has spent most of his rookie season at North Dakota playing center, he can also play wing. He actually began his collegiate career playing on wing.
“We started him out for most of the first half of the year on wing, mostly because we wanted to allow him some time to make the adjustment to this level as a 17-year-old. Since Christmas, we’ve had him playing at center and there has been no looking back for him,” said Hakstol. “I think he’s a natural centerman. I think that’s his best position and where he can be the most effective. First, he’s very good down low defensively in his own end. He does a very good job. Second, on the offensive side, I think that it allows him a little more freedom. It allows him to handle and distribute the puck a little more. Those are real key strengths to his game.”
One attribute in all of his players that Hakstol speaks highly about is character. Toews has an abundance of it. Along with his maturity level and professional demeanor, it’s what makes Toews such a remarkable player and individual. All of which are made that much more impressive by the fact that he just celebrated his 18th birthday. With all that he has shown and accomplished thus far in his young hockey career, the sky is the limit as far as his potential is concerned.
Matt MacInnis contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.