Ryan Martindale clearly remembers the first time he wanted to play hockey.
"One day in the summer my neighbors were playing road hockey and I went and talked to my dad if I could start trying it, so he signed me up for hockey in the summer," Martindale told NHL.com. "I started playing the next year and it's been good ever since."
Martindale was 4 when he made that choice, and over the last decade-plus, it's proven to be a pretty good decision.
Now a 6-foot-3, 187-pound center for the Ottawa 67s of the Ontario Hockey League, Martindale has a chance to be a first-round pick at the 2010 Entry Draft. In 61 games with the 67s this season, he had 41 assists and 60 points, and he followed that with 9 points in 12 playoff games. He's No. 27 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.
"He such a big guy, and when he's using his size and strength is when he's most effective," Chris Edwards, Central Scouting's OHL scout, told NHL.com. "He really sees the ice well and his ability to work on the power play and set up linemates on the power play is what I remember and why he's very good. When he's using his size and getting involved and winning battles is when he's most effective."
Martindale served as more a playmaker this season, a year after he had a break-out, 23-goal season.
"We had some guys who were shooting the pucks well on the wings," Ottawa coach Chris Byrne told NHL.com. "Some of the wingers on our team shot the puck well and that's what we wanted them to do, so there were less pucks coming back to him. … He has a good, low snap wrist shot that he scored some big goals for us with. He has no problem scoring. But if there's a play to be made, he'll move the puck as well."
Martindale had some help developing his shot by playing with his father, Jim, who was a goaltender for Ontario-based junior teams from 1979-83. Father gave son some different perspective on what a goaltender looks for from a shooter.
"It's an advantage because he knows the goalie's tendencies and he's really helped me out in how to score and what to do and the best places to shoot," Ryan said.
To Byrne, the biggest adjustment Martindale made this season was moving from secondary player to top-line center. Martindale had been overshadowed by Logan Couture, who went from the 67s to the San Jose Sharks this season.
"He was playing behind Logan Couture for a couple seasons, so he didn't have to take some of the key faceoffs, so he's done a good job of being a two-way centerman," said Byrne. "He did a good job. … When your first couple years in the league you're not the guy sent out to kill penalties or take the key faceoffs, but then all of a sudden you're thrust into those situations, he developed into a pretty solid two-way guy for us."
Like most at his age, Martindale isn't a finished product. The first thing he has to do is add muscle to his frame. Byrne is confident that will happen through the natural maturation process.
"He's tall but he's not thick yet," said Byrne. "That's the thing for him. He's naturally going to fill out. For him, it's tough keeping weight on during the season. As he gets more mature and older, he's naturally going to be stronger.
"If he works as hard (in the gym) as he does (on the ice)," said Byrne, "good things will happen that way."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org