Not a day goes by that Michael Dal Colle doesn't consider himself fortunate to have an opportunity to do what he enjoys most: play forward for the Oshawa Generals in the Ontario Hockey League.
It's something he understood early in life and won't ever take for granted.
His role model is his older brother, Jonluca Dal Colle, who is autistic. His hero is his mom, Wendy Dal Colle, who seven years ago was diagnosed with breast cancer but fought the fight and has been cleared since 2009.
"My mom is a huge role model for me in my life after all she's been through, in raising her kids, a special-needs son; it's pretty powerful," Dal Colle told NHL.com. "Obviously, in the back of my mind, everything I do is for her. I hope I can help her even more in the future."
Dal Colle has two siblings, Jonluca and a sister, Daniela, who played NCAA Division I hockey at Niagara University.
"Jonluca is a great guy and the other role model in my life," Dal Colle said. "He's had it hard, growing up. It's tough, but it has made us a stronger family. It makes me a better person. It's different, but I'm so used to it now and he's someone special in my life for sure; an important addition to the family."
What about the rigors of hockey in his draft year? Heck, that's the easy part.
"Every day I know I'm blessed with the opportunity I have in front of me in my career," Dal Colle said. "Everyone who plays hockey these days doesn't realize how good they have it. In the back of my mind, I realize I have it pretty easy than some other people."
There seems to be this overwhelming opinion about Dal Colle whenever a scout watches him that cannot be ignored. He isn't loud or braggadocios away from the rink; he's mild-mannered, in fact. But whenever he takes the ice and begins that relentless pursuit of the puck and drive to the net, you can sense the fire within.
"You can't help but say to yourself, 'Oh boy, there's a [future] pro,'" NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said.
The 6-foot-1.5, 179-pound left-handed shot, taken seventh in the 2012 OHL priority selection by the Generals, has that type of presence on the ice. NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr compared Dal Colle to Anaheim Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.
"I like to pride myself on my two-way game," Dal Colle said. "I'm not a guy who is geared for all offense, but I like to play all over the ice. I'm best with the puck on the stick, creating my chances off the cycle and using my big body to an advantage."
That was rather evident in the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 15 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary when Dal Colle was dominant with the puck. Dal Colle, who played for Team Cherry, scored once and had a few other attempts ring off the goalpost.
"He gets to open spots, can come off the wall and get to the net," Gregory said. "He has great speed so if he adds more size and strength to that frame, he's going to become a force. I see what he's doing now and know that he will only get stronger, that's why I really like this kid."
Dal Colle, who is fourth in the OHL with 73 points (32 goals, 41 assists), was No. 5 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top draft-eligible North American skaters. What might have been a surprise to some wasn't to the Woodbridge, Ontario native.
"To be honest, I try not to look at the rankings too much, but I'm pretty confident in my abilities and there's still more to come," he said. "The remainder of the season and the OHL playoffs will be a big test for me. I want to contribute."
In nine league playoff games as a rookie in 2012-13, Dal Colle had two goals, five points and a plus-3 rating. Oshawa was swept in a best-of-seven series by the Barrie Colts in the Eastern Conference semifinal round.
"I was so lucky as a 16-year-old to have an opportunity to play alongside Boone Jenner (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Tyler Biggs (Toronto Maple Leafs), who were great role models for me as a rookie," Dal Colle said. "They definitely helped me adjust to the OHL. They're great guys not only on the ice, but off, and that was a huge part in my learning how to take it to the next level."
He's getting plenty of mentoring this season as well, skating alongside Philadelphia Flyers 2012 first-round pick Scott Laughton, who stresses the importance of defense and playing a 200-foot game. He wears jersey No. 71 in honor of his favorite NHL player, Evgeni Malkin.
"I just love the way he plays; he's so dominant offensively and can create so many chances," Dal Colle said. "He's a guy who is always determined on the puck, making him a dominant player."
And in what areas does Dal Colle think he can improve to become that type of leader on the ice?
"I'm always looking to get faster, quicker," he said. "That was my weakness growing up. I was always a little bit sluggish. I still need to get bigger. I'm only 180 pounds, so if I want to be a successful at the next level I need to put on some muscle mass."
That's a scary proposition for any team deciding to overlook Dal Colle at the 2014 NHL Draft.