At some point last summer, the light flicked on and Chicago Blackhawk prospect Evan Brophey heeded the advice that he was receiving from all sides. And that moment of illumination has lit up the path leading the Plymouth Whalers to the verge of OHL supremacy – and has shown Brophey the path to the NHL.
"I had a long talk with him at the end of last year where I said he was a good player, but he had the chance to be a great player if he just played consistently," explained Whalers head coach Michael Vellucci. "I’m sure his agent and people from Chicago – basically everybody would have talked about it — and I give him full credit, he listened and he’s producing.
"He definitely has what it takes to make it. His skill is second to none. I think it’s just come out to show even more this year. Along with working hard and being physically fit and committing to every shift he plays. Nobody ever questioned his skill – it was his commitment to play every shift that was in doubt."
The Blackhawks selected the 6’1 Kitchener, ON native in the third round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft with the 68th pick. In his fourth season in the OHL, Brophey has been a key cog in the steamrolling machine that is the Plymouth Whalers. His club enters the OHL finals against the Sudbury Wolves after dispatching the highly-regarded London Knights in five games.
"He’s been huge. Obviously the whole year always hasn’t been easy, but even during the hard times he’s been there, saying, ‘Guys, we’ve got a great team. We just need to start playing the way we can,’" explained linemate Jared Boll (CBJ). "He’s always been there for this team. He’s done everything for us. He’s an older guy and he’s been a great leader on this team. As a linemate, he’s helped me out and he’s been awesome this year."
Awesome could be a vast understatement. This season, in 68 games, he’s scored 36 goals and added 71 assists. In the playoffs he’s played a key role in bringing Plymouth to the OHL finals, with seven goals and 10 assists in 14 games. These numbers represent huge jumps from his previous totals, including a then career-high 28 goals and 44 assists in a 2004-05 season split between the Barrie Colts and Belleville Bulls. Best of all, Brophey was able to perform night in and night out.
"It’s been great. Obviously Chicago sent me back for a reason and they wanted me to do well personally and for my team. I think we’re both on the same page with everything and that’s been great. So far things have been working out pretty well," Brophey said. "I had to work on my game this year. I had to be more consistent on both ends of the ice and I tried to do that to the best of my abilities this year.
"Defensively, offensively, just be all-around consistent and game-in, game-out just play as hard as I can."
His coach said he noticed a difference in Brophey right from the beginning of the season – one that foretold the improvement in his game this season.
"What I liked most about him this year was that he came to our team with – I don’t want to say a different commitment – but a commitment to practice hard, play hard every shift, and be a leader on and off the ice," Vellucci said. "He’s done that this year."
It’s a change that his teammates noticed – and one that’s served as a solid example for the club’s youth.
"Being up at a couple of NHL camps now, I wanted to bring back what I learned and show the younger guys on the team what it takes to the next level," Brophey said. "I’ve been trying to show that in practice as well, showing that it’s not just what you do in the games, but also what you do on and off the ice that matters."
On the ice, Brophey’s contributions are obvious. Off the ice, he’s played a key role in fostering an environment for the club’s success.
"He’s a great leader, when we need to be loose in the locker room, he’s the one that’s cracking a joke or when it’s time to get down to business he’s all there and he’ll put guys in their place," Boll said. "He’s done everything we’ve needed him to do in the locker room this year.
"When you go to camp you see the players and how hard they work and you can see that he’s been there. When he came back, he was working even harder and showing what it takes to get to the next level."
Vellucci added that he noticed that change starting last season in a playoff contest, which showed the depth of his passion and drive to win.
"I don’t want to say he’s serious all the time, but when it’s game time it’s game on. He’s got the game face, he’s ready to go," he said. "I think the biggest thing was that our guys noticed how badly he wanted to win in the playoffs last year. I remember Game 7 against Windsor he stood up and said some pretty big words, I thought. It surprised me and really encouraged his teammates."
However, in addition to his confidence, Brophey has displayed a wonderful humility and willingness to learn from those around him. He remains grounded in his expectations for his immediate future.
"You’ve got to be realistic in that situation. I think with all the prospects we have in Chicago and where I am in my development, I’m not going to jump right into the NHL," Brophey said. "It’s going to take a few years and I’m ready to do that. I’m going to work out a lot in the summer and keep up my conditioning and see where it takes me."
That being said, Brophey’s ability to play all aspects of the game in all zones makes him an attractive option to a rebuilding Chicago club.
"I can tell you this. I know guys that are playing in the NHL and Evan’s got the ability to be there, no doubt about it," Vellucci said. "If somebody’s looking for a good playmaker and scorer, he can do it. He can penalty kill; he can play the whole game – that’s what I like about him.
"If they need him next year to play on the fourth line and create some speed and some penalty killing, he can definitely do that and work his way up to the top couple of lines."
The potential of playing for an Original Six franchise is a thrill for the young forward. And as exciting as the club’s rich and storied past is, the potential of their future is just as engaging to Brophey, especially in light of the club’s recent luck with the draft lottery.
"I think everyone with a little hockey background in them knows about the Original Six and there’s a lot of tradition that goes into the teams there, so it’s good to represent that organization well on and off the ice," Brophey explained. "Obviously [Chicago] has a lot of talent coming with its prospects. And with that No. 1 pick, I’m not sure what they’re intending to do there, but it’s going to be exciting to see come draft day."
Brophey’s coach feels that the young forward will represent himself well in his next training camp and sees him making a comfortable transition to the professional game. "He needs to get stronger and quicker and, in terms of mental aspect, he has to be prepared and ready to go into camp.
"When you go into camp, those guys usually lack confidence in their abilities and I think if he shows that he has the confidence, it will give him the opportunity to make that team or at least earn a spot in the American Hockey League."
But that’s a little further than Brophey’s willing to look. "I’m not looking too personal right now, I’m pretty focused on the team and being accountable for my part," he said. "Everyone’s a piece of the puzzle in this organization and I’m just trying to do my job."
And in doing his job, Brophey hopes he will be able to lead his club to the Memorial Cup, which would be a fitting reward for his renewed commitment and effort to the game. The light’s been switched on, the path is clear, and Brophey and his Whalers teammates have made every right step along the way.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.