Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ryan Pilon hopes to someday make proud the small town of Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.
Located between his birth town of Prince Albert and Saskatoon, Duck Lake is the place Pilon now calls home whenever he isn't starring for the Wheat Kings in the Western Hockey League.
"There's about 600 people in Duck Lake," Pilon said. "If you blink you'll pass right through it. It's small-town living, but there were plenty of backyard rinks and Duck Lake Rink, where I'd play with my family and cousins all the time."
Small-town living served Pilon well. This season, his first full season in Brandon, Pilon had 11 goals, 52 points and a plus-36 rating in 68 regular-season games. In 15 playoff games he has one goal and nine points. The Wheat Kings will host the Kelowna Rockets in Game 1 of the best-of-7 WHL championship series beginning Friday in Brandon. They last won the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champions in 1996.
Pilon moved up six spots to No. 24 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft.
"The thing that stands out for me with Pilon is how well he manages the puck," Central Scouting's John Williams said. "He's a very smart player who makes very good puck decisions and has real good vision. He can pick apart the forecheck."
A change in scenery was what Pilon needed to transform him into one the top prospects at his position for the 2015 draft, which will be held June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes selected Pilon with the third pick of the 2011 WHL bantam draft. He played two games for Lethbridge 2011-12 and 57 in 2012-13, but requested a trade after 17 games in 2013-14.
"It was difficult asking out from a team but it was the best move for me," Pilon said. "Me, my family and my agent sat down together and it was the move we had to make to further my career and my development."
Brandon general manager and coach Kelly McCrimmon recalls there being several teams interested in Pilon's services and is grateful he chose the Wheat Kings.
"He's a high-end player; a player all teams had a lot of history on from his days in Lethbridge," McCrimmon said. "Our focus was trying to get a deal done, which we were able to do. He appreciated what the people did for him in Lethbridge but felt he was in need of a change."
Pilon had eight goals and 35 points in 76 regular-season games with the Hurricanes. In Brandon he has become a focal point alongside defense partner and fellow 2015 draft prospect Ivan Provorov, No. 7 on Central Scouting's final ranking.
"He's a good, smart, two-way defenseman, so it's kind of easy for us [as partners] because we know what to expect from each other and we support each other," Provorov said.
Williams said any team with two picks in the first round of this year's draft should consider selecting Provorov and Pilon since they work so well together. Pilon and Provorov were partners for Team Orr at the 2015 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 22 and combined for one goal (Pilon), one assist (Provorov) and a plus-6 rating in a 6-0 victory against Team Cherry.
"I'm watching these guys play together and they play so well together, they complement each other so well, it just kind of made sense to me," Williams said on the possibility of drafting them in the first round. "Why not, if you have the opportunity."
Brandon needed a top-end defenseman following the departure of top defenseman Ryan Pulock, who was selected No. 15 by the New York Islanders in the 2013 draft. Pulock spent this season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the American Hockey League.
"[McCrimmon] brought me in there last year and I was playing under Ryan and it was a great experience learning the ins and outs of being a pro," Pilon said. "Entering this year I was told that my role was going to involve a lot more. With Ivan here, I think we did a pretty good job of that."
Pilon, the nephew of former NHL defenseman Rich Pilon, said he has a pretty good idea on what it takes to become a solid NHL player at his position.
"You have to have a lot of aspects in your game; you have to take care of your [defensive] zone, that's the biggest thing," he said. "Also just being strong and having an ability to move up in the play. I like to jump up in the offense when it's there but I'm mainly taking care of my own end."
Pilon has the ability to quarterback a power play as he possesses a good first pass, and he scored four goals on the man-advantage in 2014-15. He scored three power-play goals in 49 games after joining Brandon last season.
He said he likes to model his game after Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, who he considers a player who will play physical and chip in on offense when needed.
"I think I have an ability to calm things down and let everyone set up and then use my shot on the back end, get pucks through to the net and allow forwards to do their job in front," Pilon said. "I like to play physical but only when necessary. Any time there's a chance to finish a body check I'll do so, but when there's a chance to jump up I'll do that too."
Williams said that while getting physical is not Pilon's strong suit, he is versatile in his approach to the game.
"He uses his smarts, reach and puck skill and he's not a guy with a real confrontational style," Williams said. "He's a good complement to a more active type of player, like a Provorov."
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Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer