Those dog days of summer when Scott Mayfield stepped outside his home in St. Louis, Mo., and began playing pick-up hockey games with friends on the block are long gone.
"Pick-up games turned into games against and with first-round NHL draft picks on the ice," Mayfield told NHL.com. "It was crazy. It was an introduction to a whole new level of play."
As it turns out, the impressive 6-foot-3 1/2, 197-pound defenseman has established himself as one of the top prospects eligible for the 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn. He's already made a believer out of several professional scouts.
"He's big and strong and competes very well in his end," NHL Central Scouting's Al Jensen told NHL.com. "He carries the puck with confidence and authority and is a strong skater. He also plays physical and will deliver the big hit now and then -- I'm even seeing a little Larry Robinson in him."
"Eighteen months ago, I had no idea any of this would happen," he said.
Following two seasons with his hometown team, the St. Louis Amateur Blues, Mayfield was drafted by the Indiana Ice but later traded to the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League -- he'd be one of the youngest players in the league. He also was selected to play for the U.S. at the 2009 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, and was a mainstay along the blue line during the team's fourth-place finish.
After struggling a bit to find his groove as a USHL rookie last season, it wasn't long before Mayfield settled down and began to exhibit the confidence everyone expected.
"I wasn't used to the faster players at the start of the season, but that nervousness went away after the first 10 games," he said. "I'm evened out now. There's no question that our goal is to be the best we possibly can and win the Clark Cup (USHL championship)."
Mayfield had 10 goals, 22 points and 145 penalty minutes in 59 games last season -- and he was involved in just one fight. He admits patterning his style of play after Philadelphia's Chris Pronger, a physically imposing blueliner with some creativity to boot.
Mayfield is considered a rangy, fluid skater with good transitional ability, capable of playing in all situations. He also plays with an edge.
"I like playing a little bigger than my size suggests," he said.
Central Scouting's Gary Eggleston was witness to that feisty demeanor during the recent USHL Fall Classic, in Sioux City, Iowa.
"He plays the body well and is physical but not in an overly rambunctious way," Eggleston told NHL.com. "He can close off the forechecker up high and is controlled, poised and calm in his play. He plays like a seasoned veteran.
"Scott has a smooth, strong and effortless stride, his passes are crisp and he sees the ice very well. He has a very good wrist shot and controls the play from the point on the power play."
Mayfield was the oldest draft-eligible prospect to participate in the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp Fueled By G Series in August. He roomed with Seth Ambroz, a highly coveted power-forward also attracting the attention of NHL scouts and managers, during the two-day camp in Toronto.
"I really enjoyed meeting all the new guys and being able to play with some of the top players in North America for my age," Mayfield said. "I was really motivated by how good some of these kids were."
He'll play another season at Youngstown -- after totaling 3 points and 10 penalty minutes in five preseason games, he was on the ice for the Phantoms' season opener Friday -- and then he's committed to the University of Denver for the fall of 2011. There, he hopes to follow in the footsteps of his father, Andrew, who graduated from the university's law school.
"My dad went there and I've wanted to go there ever since I was 10 years old," Mayfield said. "I have a Denver University jersey hanging above my bed. We tour the campus and stuff all the time."
It'll be more time away from home and his family, but it's a sacrifice he's willing to make to reach his ultimate goal.
"My parents put me on the ice when I was 4 years old and I was instantly hooked on hockey," he said. "It was hard on my mom to see me move away from home last year at age 16, but we're used to it now."
Follow Mike Morreale at Twitter at: @mike_morreale