The murals on the wall outside the Kelowna Rockets' locker room at Prospera Place, their home rink, are as big as the footsteps they've left behind. Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Luke Schenn and Tyler Myers are just a few of the top-end defensemen that have played for Kelowna prior to enjoying NHL success.
Damon Severson hopes to be next in that lineage?
"They're big footsteps to fill," Severson told NHL.com. "I've just got to push myself as hard as I can to get to where they're at now. It's a long journey and a lot of hard work, but hopefully I can fill those shoes someday."
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder made a nice step in that direction in the 2011-12 season, totaling seven goals and 37 assists in 56 games. He's No. 48 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft.
2012 NHL DRAFT
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"He's a stay-at-home, almost a throwback defenseman," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "I love the way he competes every shift and game. Has good size and likes to hit, though still rough around the edges. He was prone to mistakes and mental lapses in the first half of the season but simplified his game in second half. As a result, he had more of a disciplined and solid game by the end of the year."
A scout noting Severson's defensive skill ahead of his offensive game is a big victory for Kelowna coach Ryan Huska.
"The one thing that we do like is he's rounding himself into an all-round player compared to when he first came to us and he was all offense," Huska told NHL.com. "Over the last couple years, he's understanding the other side of the game and the importance that plays. He's becoming an all-round defenseman."
Huska said it wasn't an easy shifting Severson's focus from the offensive side of the game only to a well-rounded approach.
"All these young guys, they all come to your team having been the best player on their team," he said. "That's how they used to play. They were the big fish. They come here and they're just the little guy. In Damon's situation, he's now understanding wins are more important than personal goals or stats. He's been much better in that regard, especially in the second half when we got him back from his wrist injury."
Huska believes the big breakthrough came while Severson was out with a broken wrist at midseason.
"Players, when they sit out, they watch the game and see the things they tried to do just don't work," he said. "In Damon's situation, you never want to say an injury is a good thing, but he was able to watch our defensemen make good decisions and make bad decisions. His thought process when he came back was much better because he was able to see where our defensemen made their mistakes and had opportunities to keep it simple and he had the opportunity to apply that when he came back."
Huska said Severson was a vastly improved player when he returned, and said now the key is to find the balance in his game.
"We need him to be a top-four guy to play against top lines, but we also want to depend on him to create offense," he said. "We want to find a way to make use of his offensive side, but he also has to understand when to make good decisions on when to put the puck off the glass and just get it out of the zone."
Severson is a good enough athlete that there's little doubt he'll continue that transformation into an all-round defenseman. Helping refine his hockey skills has been his proficiency on the baseball diamond. He's played baseball every summer near his home in Melville, Sask., and has won league batting titles and MVP awards the last two years. He pitches and also plays catcher and shortstop.
"You've always got to be aware in baseball," Severson said. "Just like hockey, anything can happen. A puck could bounce somewhere just like a ball can bounce anywhere, so you always have to be ready. I find it very similar. I try to transfer [the skills] as much as I can."
As good as he's been at baseball, however, Severson said he's confident his best course to athletic success lies on the rink.
"I feel like hockey has always been the bigger thing for me," he said. "It's 6-7 months out of the year, sometimes eight. Baseball is the 2-3 month thing for me in the summertime. Always been a second hobby to me, even though I am almost as good at baseball as I am at hockey. This is what people tell me. I just like hockey more. It's just been my real passion."
That passion hopefully will lead him to seeing his own mural on the wall at Prospera Place someday.
"When we've recruited defensemen the last little while, they look at the success we've had in turning out defensemen, and Damon is no different," Huska said. "He wants to be one of those guys eventually, and he's going to get an opportunity to get drafted by a team that will push him to take his game to the next level."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK