Forward Sonny Milano is a big fan of 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane.
It makes perfect sense, as Kane is an American and former standout for the United States National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. Milano, born in Massapequa, N.Y., is currently starring for the U.S. Under-18 NTDP in the United States Hockey League.
"The reason I'm a big Patrick Kane fan is because I not only like the way he plays, but how he makes players around him better; how he can see the ice and make plays," Milano said. "That's how I want to be."
Milano will often display the offensive pop Kane showcases daily for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, but don't think for a second he doesn't enjoy getting his hands dirty in the corners to help his teammates. Milano does bring an edge to his game.
"He probably has as much skill and puck skills as anyone I've coached in 15 years," USNTDP U-18 coach Danton Cole told NHL.com. "He does some amazing things with the puck."
Committed to Boston College in 2014-15, Milano was one of just three USHL players given an A rating on NHL Central Scouting's November players to watch list for the 2014 NHL Draft.
The 5-foot-11.5, 183-pound left-hander scored the decisive goal and took three shots for Team Mark Johnson in a 5-2 victory against Team Joey Mullen at the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Top Prospects Game in Pittsburgh in September.
"It means everything to wear the U.S. crest and, even in practice, to represent your country is something special," Milano told NHL.com. "Playing hockey, in general, is like a getaway for me. I just get a good feeling out there on the ice."
During the All-American Prospects Game, Milano played left wing on a line with fellow A-rated prospect Nick Schmaltz of the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers and B-rated prospect Alex Tuch of the U-18 NTDP.
"Sonny is a great player with tons of skill and vision," Schmaltz told NHL.com. "It was fun to play with him at the prospects game. Playing with someone like him makes the game easier because of his offensive talent. He can make plays a lot of kids our age can't. Rarely do I get to play with guys like him, so I took advantage of that and had a lot of fun."
Cole, who is in his fourth season as a head coach for USA Hockey's NTDP, had particular praise for Milano when asked about his assets as a player.
"He's really interested in playing the game hard and playing it the right way, trying to be a complete player," Cole said. "When he puts that package together, he's a tough young man to stop."
Milano didn't have an opportunity to play hockey growing up in Massapequa, but there were other parts of Long Island where he did learn to play.
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"Hockey is something I've been doing since I was 2 years old, so it's just a part of my life now," he said. "I was the first one in my family to start playing hockey; my sister had figure skating lessons and didn't like it, so she quit midway through. I stepped in since there were a lot of open slots. I didn't figure skate but just used the time to learn how to skate, so I was on the ice when I was about one-and-a-half. That's when I actually scored my first goal."
Milano teamed with Kitchener Rangers center Ryan MacInnis, a B-rated prospect from the Ontario Hockey League, on the U.S. National Team that finished third at the 2013 U-17 World Challenge in Victoriaville and Drummondville, Quebec. Milano had four goals and a team-leading 10 points in six games en route to being named to the All-Tournament Team.
"He's a really skilled player and fun to play with," said MacInnis, the son of Hockey Hall-of-Famer Al MacInnis. "Sonny will get you the puck from the corner and he'll fight for it."
Many NHL scouts believe Milano can become something very special this season.
"He's so dynamic, very good with the puck in traffic and in open ice and can make defensemen look silly," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "He enjoys chirping at other players too. He likes to get under your skin. He'll allow the play to come to him, take a hit and chirp it up before heading on a 2-on-1 in the opposite direction resulting in a goal … I've seen it happen. He certainly has the potential of becoming a complete player."
Milano is listed on Central Scouting's register as a left wing, his preferred position.
"I prefer left wing since I play it a little more, but it doesn't really matter to me, since I can play all three forward spots," he said.
Milano leads the U-18 NTDP with 21 assists and 31 points in 19 games this season.
Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen acknowledged Milano has a great set of hands and will only improve against better competition.
"He's got magic hands, really skilled and gifted," Rajanen told NHL.com. "I remember one move he did against the Indiana Ice in the USHL [on Sept. 21] where he took the puck behind the net and flipped it over the net, over the goalie, and it landed flat for his buddy in front. That's the type of play he'll create; he's a solid first-round pick in my opinion."