When Guelph right wing Scott Kosmachuk was recruited to play for the Toronto Marlboros at age 7, he had one simple goal in mind: have fun.
Not much has changed for Kosmachuk in 11 years -- having fun is still the defining factor in his game -- but as he heads to Pittsburgh for the 2012 NHL Draft, it's working in his favor more than ever.
"You play hockey obviously because you love it, not because you're made to," Kosmachuk told NHL.com. "I play because I love it, it's really fun for me, it's something that I enjoy doing. If you let the pressure get to you, then you're not playing for yourself."
With that mentality it's no wonder Kosmachuk more than doubled his point production from his rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League, notching 59 points (30 goals, 29 assists) in 67 games with the Guelph Storm in 2011-12. That's one game fewer than he played in his rookie campaign, in which he had 21 points (six goals, 15 assists). In fact, the 30 goals are one fewer than Central Scouting's No. 1 ranked prospect, Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting.
Kosmachuk's mindset of enjoying each moment rather than bowing to pressure helped him move into a top-six forward role with the Storm. He spent significant time on the power play and was able to use his speed and stick-handling to score goals.
He also earned a spot on Team Canada's U-18 team in the World Junior Championship in January. The 6-foot, 185-pound Ontario native was ranked No. 24 among North American skaters by Central Scouting heading into the draft, to be held June 22-23 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
"Scott has a very good skill set," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "His puck-handling and playmaking ability are both very good. He handles and protects the puck very well in traffic and has the ability to get the puck through traffic to create scoring chances."
He credits his strong work ethic to his father, Tim Kosmachuk, who owns a janitorial company. Tim worked nights throughout much of Scott's childhood and made sure to teach the value of hard work on and off the ice. Scott's two older brothers also helped toughen him up in games on their backyard rink. But it was his mother, Wendy, who drove Scott and his three siblings to all of their games and practices when her husband was at work.
Scott doesn't take these things for granted when he steps on the ice.
"A great set of family values with the Kosmachuks, just a pleasure to coach," said Dan Brown, Scott's minor hockey coach from age 8-15 with the Marlboro program. "What really stands out about Scott is just the way he played the game, it was like a big game of shinny, or outdoor hockey. As highly skilled as he is, and as much of a competitor as he is, it was just pure fun for him -- more than it was for all the rest of the boys."
Brown recruited Kosmachuk at age 7 after noticing the young forward in a game at West Mall in Toronto. Brown contacted Scott's parents to have him play for the Marlboros, a new team of highly talented youth from the Toronto area. Four of the original members of that squad are draft eligible this year, including No. 16 ranked Matt Finn, Scott Laughton, Adam Pelech and Connor Brown.
"We had a lot of good players on one team and they really pushed each other," Brown said. "I think [Kosmachuk has] some of the best hands of all of his peers going into the draft this year. When you combine that with his energy level and his passion for the game, his passion gives him this natural competitiveness -- it's not forced, but he wants to win. It's back to him having fun and being competitive, and he's high skilled all around."
Kosmachuk has proven his passion for the game by fighting when need be, which is why he had 110 penalty minutes for Guelph last season. His weakness is in his skating and in his consistency, things he hopes to improve with time and hard work.
"His work ethic is excellent, and as he matures as a young man it continues to grow, but he still has more developing to do all around and that's on a very steep curve," Brown said. "A big part of it over [and] above the skill is off ice and character. He has high marks in the character department.
"When I think of [Kosmachuk], I think of all the faces that I've coached over the years, and he is always smiling, and he is just a fine young man."