For Stefan Legein, the Blue Jackets' 2nd round pick this past summer, it's been a wild turn of events in the last three years. Just two seasons ago Legein was teetering back and forth between the OHL and its "minor league," the OPJHL. Just three days ago, Legein returned to Canada with a gold medal from the world's most prestigious junior hockey tournament.
The small but feisty and winger was a big part of Canada's fourth consecutive gold medal at the World Junior Championships in Pardubice, Czech Republic. Even though he was gone for more than three weeks, nearly 4,500 miles from home in Oakville, Ontario, Legein learned a lot about himself as both a person and a player.
"I learned about big moments in big games. I have played in a bunch of big games in the OHL, including the playoffs, but this was bigger than anything I had played in before," Legein said. "I thought I knew about big moments, but every shift in the World Juniors is huge," he continued.
Legein has made big strides in his game to get him to the biggest junior stage. However, Legein, who had a goal and an assist in six games in the tournament, still recognizes a need to improve his game.
"I need to work on everything. If my game was good enough, I would be in Columbus – but I know that I need a lot of work. I need to get stronger, quicker, and faster," Legein said. "Frankly, I need to get smarter with the puck in every situation. I really need to work on everything."
In all, it was a great experience for the 19-year-old. With the World Juniors being such a big holiday tradition in Canada, families gather around the television to watch hockey's future stars.
"When I used to watch from home, I used to get so excited and happy when Canada won the gold medal. It was truly the greatest feeling of my life to be there and win the gold medal," Legein said.
Heading back to the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL, Legein will take his experiences and improved skill set back to one of the best junior leagues in the world. He will look to continue his hard work on every shift – he knows that is one of the things will take him to the next level.
"The speed of every shift was much different than the OHL. There's a little bit more on the line," Legein commented. "In the OHL, guys don't work hard on every shift. They tend to take some off, and you can't do that in the World Juniors," he said.
In Niagara, Legein vowed to do everything he can to get to Columbus in the next year or two. Coming down to Columbus for the Rookie Camp this past offseason, Legein is focused on getting to the next level.
"Just to be drafted was amazing. Being from Toronto, I didn't really know too much about Columbus, but it was great to come down there for the Rookie Camp," Legein said. "They seem like a great organization. People like Coach Ken Hitchcock and the front office seem to know exactly what they want to do – and they're doing it. They've got a great future and I’m excited to be a part of it," he continued.
If Legein continues to develop and grow in the leaps and bounds as he has through the past two or three seasons, he will find himself in the big leagues in the not so distant future.