Distance has never been much of a problem for James Melindy.
The Moncton (QMJHL) defenseman covers a lot of it on the ice, and he's covered a whole lot more of it over his young hockey life.
Raised in the remote Newfoundland and Labrador outpost of Goulds, a hamlet near St. Johns on the southeastern coast of Newfoundland, Melindy played his minor hockey around the island. Eventually, as he grew into his rangy, 6-foot-2 frame, his dreams of playing professionally drew him away from the island to the hockey-rich Canadian interior.
"It's a whole package with this kid. He's got good size -- he's 6-foot-2 -- he's a good skater, a very decent puck-handler, he's got some offensive ability, and his hockey sense is good."
-- QMJHL scout Chris Bordeleau
At the tender age of 14, he joined powerhouse prep program Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, 5,000 kilometers away in tiny Wilcox, Saskatchewan. There, he helped the Hounds win the 2010 Telus Cup -- Canada's midget national championship -- while honing his game, his maturity and his mental strength. He spent two years at Notre Dame, a school three plane rides, four provinces and countless hours removed from family and friends.
"I think Notre Dame is such a special experience, it helps you grow up, kind of learn how to live on your own and deal with stuff yourself," Melindy said. "It makes you mature so much quicker. Notre Dame helped me a lot."
Danny Flynn, the Moncton coach who drafted him 34th in the 2009 QMJHL Draft, couldn't agree more.
"When he came in as a 17-year-old, he wasn't your normal first-year player who's adjusting to being away from home," Flynn said. "Much like Brandon Gormley, he came in and adjusting was not an issue."
Gormley, the Phoenix Coyotes' 2010 first-round pick, is a name that comes up time and again in conversations with Melindy, Flynn and scouts for the league, and for good reason. The similarities between the two abound: both moved from islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Notre Dame and, eventually, back to the "Q" to star for the Wildcats. And both, Flynn and scouts agree, possess the potential to become dependable blueliners in the NHL.
"It's a whole package with this kid," QMJHL scout Chris Bordeleau said of Melindy. "He's got good size -- he's 6-foot-2 -- he's a good skater, a very decent puck-handler, he's got some offensive ability, and his hockey sense is good."
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His scouting report wasn't always so complimentary, however. It was only after an outstanding second half and playoff run in 2011-12 that Melindy jumped 30 spots in the rankings, to the 63rd spot he holds today.
"I thought James had a very good first year, but he had an exceptionally good second year," Flynn said. "I've been at it for a long time, I don't know a player in a long time who improved as much from his first year to his second year as he did."
Both Flynn and Melindy agreed confidence was a key factor in the player's second-season surge. The 18-year-old enjoyed time in the top four and was thrust into special-teams and late-game situations after Gormley was traded to Shawinigan midway through the season.
"When Gormley was traded at Christmas, I ended up stepping up and playing first power play, playing two-minute penalty kills, first D-pairing," Melindy said. "I think the biggest thing for me was the opportunity to increase confidence in my abilities. The coaching staff has relied on me a lot more this year, and I just played to the best of my ability."
Added Flynn: "Confidence is the fuel of success. You see it so much in junior hockey, once the confidence starts to go the game starts to go. James has a lot of ability, it was just a matter of him maturing into his game."
A reinvigorated Melindy finished with nine goals and 18 assists to go along with a minus-7 rating on a team that struggled to score all season long. But his regular season was just a prelude to the playoffs, where Melindy shined with two goals and an assist in a short series against Halifax.
"I think I saw a lot of gradual improvement, but I thought his playoff was really strong," Flynn said. "In the key games against top players from Halifax -- future NHL players -- I think he really played well under pressure in the playoffs. Like I said, he was one of our best players."
The postseason performance convinced Flynn that Melindy is poised to follow in the footsteps of outstanding defensemen who cut their teeth with the Wildcats, a group that includes Luc Bourdon, Keith Yandle, David Savard, Mark Barberio and Gormley.
"He just needs game experience, but his hockey sense and his skill level are good," Flynn said. "His commitment level is right where it needs to be."
By all accounts, the long road to the NHL that lies ahead of Melindy shouldn't be too much of a problem. Still far from home -- Moncton is 22 hours from Goulds by car, including the ferry from Newfoundland -- Melindy is accustomed to long journeys.