Jack of all trades, master of none. For the Kitchener Rangers’ Nick Spaling, versatility is both a blessing and a curse and this jack of all trades is hoping to come up aces as the 2007 NHL Entry Draft approaches.
The Drayton, ON native has played an integral role in any success that the Rangers have enjoyed. In addition to posting season totals of 23 goals and 36 assists in 61 games, Spaling has demonstrated an ability to perform in a wide variety of roles.
Normally, that type of versatility is valued by scouts – but only when it’s combined with a demonstrated ability to excel in one attribute or another. Hence the jack of all trades, master of none designation.
"He’s a good hockey player. A player like Spaling needs to figure out what his role is going to be," explained one NHL scout. "I mean, no one can do everything. Gretzky couldn’t do everything!
"You’ve got to figure out where a player is going to fit in. He’s a pretty good overall player, but he’s got to find a niche."
Not only does Spaling have to define his role, but he needs to improve on whatever skill set that applies to the role he’s selected.
"He’s got to define a role. If he’s going to be a scorer then he’s got to score a little better. If he’s going to be a checker then he’s got to become a little more abrasive," the scout continued. "He’s got to stand out. I always use the expression that players have to force us to draft them. Once they’re drafted you have to force a team to sign them. And once you’ve signed them, they have to force the coach to put you on the ice.
"You have to present to the team that you can do something better than the other guy."
To his credit, Spaling understands that he’s got plenty of work ahead of him, although he’s enjoying the notoriety of being ranked so highly.
"I’m happy with it for sure, but I wasn’t expecting it. I just wanted to go out and play and not try to worry about that stuff," he said. "I need to work on everything. I mean, it’s one step above, so you’ve got to improve every one of your skills – be bigger, faster, stronger.
"I think I have to work on my speed and my shot – everything happens faster and you have to shoot harder at that level."
When you’ve got players like Steve Downie (PHI) on your roster, it’s easy to get overshadowed. But scouts are firm in their belief that paying a little extra attention to Spaling is worth the effort.
"He’s a player you’ve got to watch, if you don’t you might not appreciate him," another scout explained. "He’s a guy that always makes the right play and goes to the right places on the ice. He makes simple plays. He’s not horribly attractive, but he thinks the game very well.
"His anticipation [stands out], his ability to read plays and be in position to be accessible whether that’s to take a pass or pick up a forecheck. He must really study the game. Some guys have that knack and he seems to do a very good job of it."
One person who has loved what he’s seen is Rangers head coach and general manager Peter DeBoer.
"Nick’s a real impressive young man. He’s a very good hockey player, very smart and hard working. I think he’s got a lot of potential. He comes from a great family and he’s a pleasure to be with," DeBoer explained. "I think when you see Nick, he’s a guy that doesn’t jump out at you as the most dynamic player on the ice but at the end of the game he’s a plus, and he’s killed penalties and played on the power play, and he’s done all the little things. There are a lot of guys in the NHL that do exactly that. I’m not sure he has to find himself – he’s going to be a very reliable pro and those are the kind of guys that coaches love to have on their bench to put out there.
"I don’t think he’s done growing yet – he’s going to be a big man. He’s got good hands but I think his hockey smarts and his head for the game are second to none and they’re the things that really separate him from some of the other guys."
Spaling almost presents an aw-shucks, just-glad-to-be-here persona, which may be a result of his small-town roots. "I come from a small town so the NHL looks like it’s a real, real long ways away," he said. "But now that you’re playing in the OHL it seems a little bit closer, but it’s still a big step to take."
Don’t expect him to go all prima donna on the club, as he’s firmly grounded in the desire to promote team above self. "Team success brings personal success, so I just put the team needs first and everybody will get what they’re looking for."
And that’s not just talk. DeBoer added that Spaling is as solid as it gets and while some players may focus on padding their personal stats during a draft year, there’s no worry of that happening with Spaling.
"For a lot of players it is an issue, but it never has been for Nick," DeBoer said. "He’s a team guy and I think it’s a testament to his character that it’s never even crossed my mind as an issue and I don’t ever expect that it would. He’s just not that type of player."
But in the end, Spaling’s draft positioning will be determined by what kind of player he chooses to be and the efforts he makes in reaching that goal.
"Spaling probably will make it to the next level, but he’s a guy that maybe has to get more involved in the play in front of the net, maybe get a little grittier," a scout said. "I think he’ll play as a pro. Where he sits, I’m not sure overall, but there’s potential there. Again it’s tough to say."
Although he grew up rooting for the Leafs and idolizing Joe Sakic, Spaling’s just looking forward to what comes next in his journey. "I’d play for anybody – just to make that step would be great."
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.