It took Mike Vellucci one viewing to know he wanted Ryan Hartman to play for his team.
Three years later, the coach/general manager of the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League is about to be rewarded for his patience.
Hartman, a 5-foot-11, 187-pound forward, opted to join the Whalers this season after playing the past two with the U.S. National Team Development Program. In 2011-12, he was second on the USNTDP U-18 team with 38 points in 55 games, and added six points in six games to help the United States win the gold medal at the 2012 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.
Hartman is expected to produce at a high level for Plymouth this season, and NHL Central Scouting has ranked him as a B player on its preliminary watch list for the 2013 NHL Draft.
"How he controls the puck is one of the things that I was most impressed with," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "I've seen him just a few times … but when he controls the puck he can really make an impact on the game."
Hartman certainly made an impact on Vellucci. It was during the 2009-10 season, when Hartman was playing for the Chicago Mission minor-midget U-16 team, that Vellucci saw Hartman for the first time.
"I remember we were at City Ice Arena in downtown Detroit and I think he scored four goals that game," Vellucci told NHL.com. "Three of them were top shelf, beat the goalie high, just really good goals. That was one of the reasons [we wanted him]. I saw him personally play. He was a gritty player, he played in the tough areas, he was a goal scorer. I remember he scored four goals and that's what attracted me at first to him."
With Vellucci calling the shots, the Whalers selected Hartman in the fifth round of the 2010 OHL draft, and were willing to wait while the burgeoning power forward developed his game just down the road at the USNTDP center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"I talked to him over the last two years periodically just to say, 'If you're ever interested, give us a call,'" Vellucci said.
That call finally came this summer when Hartman had to decide on his future for the 2012-13 season. He had committed to Miami University, but with another year of high school to go -- Hartman turns 18 on Sept. 20 -- he would have had to spend a season in the USHL prior to going to college. That made Plymouth an intriguing option.
"I had an extra year of high school left so I wouldn't have been able to play in the NCAA until two years [from now]," Hartman told NHL.com. "The Plymouth program is really outstanding. The staff [and] coach Vellucci does a really good job developing players. I fell like it's the best place for me to develop. It's where I wanted to go."
Vellucci said he left the decision-making process to Hartman and his family, but Hartman said one current Whalers player certainly helped in the recruiting process. Tom Wilson, a 2012 first-round pick of the Washington Capitals who was Plymouth's 2010 first-round pick, helped sell Hartman on the Plymouth experience.
"I talked to Tom Wilson a little bit," Hartman said. "He [showed] me the ropes, told me what to do, gave me the schedule, the school schedule, when they practice, all that. He made me think that's where I wanted to go."
Vellucci said he believes Hartman's package of skill and grit will fit perfectly into his program.
"He is Plymouth Whalers hockey," he said. "He's exactly like what we like to draft, he's exactly how we like to play. We have a lot of those guys, with Willie [Wilson], [Stefan] Noesen and [Rickard] Rakell, those guys that are hockey players, they compete, they play hard, they go to the tough areas. They [play] aggressive, in-your-face hockey. I think he fits in perfectly with our system and our Plymouth Whaler hockey mentality."
J.T. Miller, who jumped from the USNTDP to Plymouth last season, said Hartman will be a solid addition to the team.
"He plays really hard, I like that a lot about him," Miller told NHL.com. "He doesn't really change his intensity throughout the game, he competes for every loose puck. He's got a really good shot too."
Something else working in Hartman's favor is his versatility. He's listed as a right wing, but Vellucci has used him at left wing as well at center. It's the same plan he used for Boston Bruins forward Tyler Seguin when Vellucci coached him with Plymouth.
"It's hard to say [where his best position is], but the wing because he goes into the corners, he digs those pucks out, he likes that kind of play," Vellucci said. "But at center he's very responsible defensively. He is a smart hockey player. All those attributes you look for in a center, he has them. But he also has them as a winger. That's probably one of his biggest assets for us and for him going forward, is he can play the game any way you want it."
Hartman said he likes being able to bring multiple styles to the table.
"I like to make plays for my teammates, set them up, get them opportunities to score goals," he said. "I like to take the body. I feel like taking the body opens more opportunities for offense. If you play defense first, offense comes, and that's the way I play."
And he said he'll do his best to play this season free from the mental clutter that can come from the number of scouts in the stands at most of his games leading to the draft.
"I just take it day by day," he said. "I don't really think about what's going on 10 weeks from now, five weeks from now. I just think about the next day, what's going on then, focus on the game tomorrow."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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