(Hockey’s Future spoke with Colton Gillies and Lorne Molleken on game days in Saskatoon on October 11 and in Kelowna on October 25.)
If Colton Gillies keeps a personal hockey road map, it would confirm frequent crossings of the Rocky Mountains in recent years.
Born and raised in Surrey, B.C., he’s now making a name for himself on the prairies as a member of the Saskatoon Blades. In 2004, Gillies was chosen second overall by the Blades in the annual WHL bantam draft. Since his arrival in Saskatchewan’s city of bridges, the lanky forward has made the hockey world take notice.
“He certainly one of the elite players in our league, even though he’s still just a young man,” suggested Blades’ general manager and head coach Lorne Molleken. “He’s highly thought of in the hockey world. He’s already played for the national U-18 team as an assistant captain.”
Molleken himself has built an impressive hockey resume, with WHL coaching and management stints in Regina and Moose Jaw. During his three seasons in the Edmonton Oilers system, Molleken led the upstart Hamilton Bulldogs to an unlikely spot in the 1996-97 AHL championship finals. He’s also coached the “HFlinkstyle”>Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Gillies acknowledged the impact Molleken is having on his development.
“He’s the man I look up to the most,” Gillies said, emphatically. “He’s such a respectable guy and he’s teaching me so much. Last year I came in and he taught me so much about the things he felt I really had to know. I’m still learning and I think he does a great job. I appreciate everything he does for me.”
While Gillies is making an impact on the ice, Molleken also likes what he sees away from the rink.
“Number one, he’s a tremendous young man,” Molleken said. “He’s very encouraging, very positive on and off the ice. He’ll take the time to help anyone out in any situation. And he comes to the rink everyday to be the best he can possibly be.”
At 6’4, 185 pounds, the 17-year-old Gillies is already an imposing presence on the ice. It’s a quality, among other attributes, not lost on Molleken.
“The biggest thing is he’s got such a big reach and he does everything at top speed,” Molleken explained. “He likes to challenge people one-on-one, which to me is very important. He uses his skating and puck handling abilities to his advantage and he’s got good vision on the ice.”
When asked about his strengths, Gillies echoed the comments of his head coach.
“I feel like I bring a lot of speed to the ice,” Gillies said. “I like the one-on-one situations, being able to isolate a defenseman. I feel like that’s an area where I can at least take them wide and create some open ice.”
“He’s got the one dimension for sure, his skating ability is tremendous,” Molleken added. “And he plays the game with a lot of emotion, a lot of determination. I think he’ll make a tremendous pro.”
Eligible for the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Gillies is currently ranked ninth among skaters, second among WHLers, by the International Scouting Service. (Karl Alzner of the Calgary Hitmen is ranked seventh.) It’s heady stuff for Gillies, although he’s quick to acknowledge it’s very early in the season.
At the U-18 World Championship, held last August in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Gillies played with a number of top prospects including Angelo Esposito (Quebec, QMJHL), John Negrin (Kootenay, WHL) and Kyle Turris (Burnaby, BCHL). This season, in late November, Gillies will participate in the ADT Russia/Canada Challenge as a member of Team WHL.
Last season with the Blades, Gillies played in 63 games, scoring six goals and six assists. As for the immediate future, expectations are very high in Saskatoon, where Gillies is being looked upon as a key contributor, a leader for years to come. The organization believes a breakout season is in the works.
“The one thing we expect from Colton as he matures is to really start putting the puck in the net for us,” Molleken explained. “The way he plays the game, we think that’ll come.”
“He leads by example, by his work ethic. As a younger player he has already gained the respect of his teammates because of that. Sure, as a young player he makes mistakes, but he’s willing to learn from it. I expect some day he will be the captain of the Saskatoon Blades.”
On the question of leadership, Gillies does not shy away from the expectation. And he’s quick to credit some key veterans who have lent their time and experience to his personal development in recent years.
“Well, I’m very talkative,” Gillies admitted. “I like to be a guy who does some yelling to get the adrenalin going and hopefully help get the guys going, too.”
“I learned quite a bit last year from guys like Joe Barnes (CAR), Wacey Rabbit (BOS) and Devon Setoguchi (SJ),” Gillies remembered. “When I was in kind of a slump, I learned you just have to continue to come out every day and be ready to go. Sometimes things will go your way. You just can’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s so important to be able to play relaxed.”
In addition to life with the Blades, life in Saskatoon has been a positive experience for Gillies, who is currently attending Marion Graham High School.
“It’s nice to be able to be living here with my grandparents,” Gillies explained. “They can help me and I can help them. And the city is amazing; the fans have been really nice. Geez, I just walk around and people are always saying hello. We get involved in community events too, and I’m enjoying that.”
This season to date, Gillies has scored a goal and eight assists in 12 games. However, one goal that did not make the statistics sheet came in the shootout against Kootenay, a tally buried in highlight reel fashion to clinch a 3-2 win on home ice.
“You know, Colton, every time he touches the puck and moves through the neutral zone, he kind of reminds me of a Mike Modano type player,” Molleken opined. “It’s just the way he skates, the way he handles things.”
Gillies, whose parents Noelle and Dwight continue to reside in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, also enjoys the fact he’s made so many friends through hockey. Of particular note is Turris, who is currently ranked 21st by the ISS, the highest among CJAHL players.
“Kyle is just so smart and he can really find the net,” Gillies said. “He’s gone the college route (Wisconsin, ’07) and I’m playing in the WHL. We played a lot of spring and summer hockey together in the Vancouver area. I still remember waking up at his house and getting ready to go to practices.”
Wherever Gillies lands during his travel throughout the hockey world, the consensus among those in the know is he will continue to have a positive impact on the game and on the people he meets.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.