With several of the team’s top players having departed for the professional ranks, the Plymouth Whalers’ Matt Mistele knows it’s his time to step up and fill some pretty big shoes. Fortunately, a mid-season trade last year provided him a pretty good example to follow.
“[Vincent] Trocheck, when he came to our team, you notice the little things that he does on and off the ice,” he said. “ He’s always trying to get prepared and do the little things right. It’s just amazing to watch and be a part of.
“You want to ask him everything you can — when a guy’s getting 109 points in a season, he’s obviously doing something right.”
Trocheck isn’t the only player that Mistele has taken the opportunity to learn from. Some of the players, whose offensive production he’s expected to replace, have helped him grow as a player both on and off the ice.
“My first two years I’ve been blessed to have a lot of high-talented players around me like Trocheck and [the departed Garrett Meurs, Richard Rakell, and Stefan Noesen, as well as Tom Wilson],” he explained. “You just have to listen to the older guys — that’s what I took from when I was young. You just want to ask as many questions and just take it all in.”
Obviously, Mistele’s learning his lessons well. He was listed on NHL Central Scouting’s Futures North American list as one of the OHL players to watch leading up to the 2014 NHL Draft. Last year, the 6’2, 190-pound forward played in 68 games, accounting for 34 goals and 60 points en route to a plus-32 rating. That marked a huge jump in production from his rookie campaign. Mistele explained that he chose not to get discouraged that first season, but rather use it as another learning opportunity.
“My first year I played 28 games and I just tried to work hard in practice. I knew we had a lot of talented guys that year, so I wasn’t going to get that many opportunities to play much,” he said. “You have to realize it’s a team game and every day you have to come in, put your foot forward, and work as hard as you can because there’s guys who want to take your spot.
“For young guys this year, and I know that we’ve got a lot of young guys on our team, those players are thinking that way too.”
Albeit only 17 years old and in his draft year, Mistele said he’s ready to step up and lead the way, both on the ice and in the dressing room.
“We have a lot of young guys — I think we’re one of the youngest teams in the OHL this year,” Mistele said. “I’m 17 now, I’m turning 18 soon [on Oct. 17th] so I want to take on that leadership role. It’s something that’s always been in my life, to be a leader. I’m trying to help the young guys — teach them what to do, where to go, and how to act both on and off the ice.”
He’s ready to step up and assume a leadership role because he knows that the management team has brought in some players to help shoulder the load.
“[Team president, general manager, and head coach Mike] Vellucci brought in guys like [Connor] Chatham [who played with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers last season] and [New York Islanders’ prospect Viktor Crus] Rydberg, so we’re all going to have to step up, embrace the role, and do the best that we can,” he said.
Mistele admitted it can be a lot of pressure. Not only is he anticipating taking a leadership role on the squad and playing a key offensive role, but he also has to balance that pressure with the additional scrutiny that comes from being a projected high 2014 draft pick.
“It’s a lot to think about, but you just try to put it in the back of your head and when you get to the rink you have to focus on hockey and nothing else,” he said. “You have a lot of people to talk to like Vellucci and [assistant coach] Don [Elland], and your parents — they help you out with that kind of stuff.
You can think about it when you’re not at the rink, but when you’re on the ice you have to be focused — and that’s it.”
And he said he knows that extra eyes are watching him this year.
“You know the scouts are there, for sure, being in your draft year. You don’t know when or where they are; all you do know is that if you’re playing your best, then they’re going to take interest in you,” he said. “If you’re having a bad game, then they’re going to notice that, too.”
Playing on a team that’s been riddled with veterans and drafted players over the past couple of years, Mistele said he’s spoken to teammates about how to handle the pressure of the draft year. In addition to spending extra time in the gym, Mistele said one piece of advice was consistent throughout his discussions.
“Just maintain focus at all times,” he said. “When you come to a rink, it’s all about hockey. This is our jobs, we’re getting paid to do it. Nothing else matters when you come to the rink.”
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