There's a time where a hockey player goes from hoping to make a team to knowing he can make that squad.
That's the place Moose Jaw Warriors defenseman Joel Edmundson
started the 2010-11 season. By the end of it, however, he wasn't just hoping to hold onto a roster spot -- he was a key member of the team and just beginning to showcase his full skill set.
Edmundson, a 6-foot-4, 191-pound blueliner, had just 2 goals, 18 assists and 95 penalty minutes in 71 games. However, those who watched him closely are sure that's just the tip of the iceberg for Edmundson.
"He's a small-town guy that maybe didn't fully understand what is out there for him as a hockey player," Dave Hunchak, his coach in Moose Jaw this past season, told NHL.com. "In the second half he started to figure out a lot of things quick in his game. His work ethic shot up, his will to compete shot up, and he became a top-four guy on our team.
"He's a really good two-way defenseman. You ask him to create offense, he can do that; you ask him to shut down and he can do that."
Edmundson told NHL.com the improvement in his play was a question of him gaining confidence in his ability to stick in the Western Hockey League.
"Last year I was playing Midget AAA in Brandon, so coming into Moose Jaw I was fighting for a spot on the roster," he said. "First half of the year I was gaining my confidence and trying to stay in the lineup. After the Christmas break I told myself I needed to play better, get in more fights and get more points. Just got more confident and ran with it and the season went good for me."
The numbers bear that out, as both his goals and 13 of his 20 points came in the 2011 portion of the schedule. The scouting reports also show a rise in the caliber of his play. He rocketed from No. 69 in NHL Central Scouting's mid-term ranking of North American skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft to No. 35 in the final ranking.
"Edmundson really improved as the season progressed," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald told NHL.com. "His confidence and composure increased almost with each game played. He used his size and his positioning was strong. His one-on-one's were solid. He learned to make that first outlet pass on the tape. He played on the power play a lot more, and as a result his instincts and vision improved. Some team will get a solid, stay-at-home defenseman with a lot of upside. A physical element, as well, though he does it smartly."
Hunchak believes the reason Edmundson has flown under the radar is that he's never really trained solely as a hockey player. Rather than spending his summer working toward the next hockey season, Edmundson would trade his stick, skates and the ice for a bat, spikes and a baseball diamond.
However, now that Edmundson has put his baseball skills on hold, Hunchak strongly believes all the good things Edmundson did this season are just the start.
"He committed himself to being a hockey player," said Hunchak. "He's an excellent baseball player. Once he decided to be a hockey player, it became a lot easier for him. … He's such a quiet, laid-back guy, he's going to turn himself into an excellent hockey player."
There were a few benchmarks along Edmundson's development road. A physical game against the Saskatoon Blades on Oct. 19 saw him get into his first WHL fight.
"Early in the season we were playing Saskatoon, got an early lead on them, he got into a scrap with a very tough player and didn't realize who he was getting into a scrap with and handled himself very well," said Hunchak. "From that point on, his confidence shot up, his skating got better."
That led to a four-game stretch in mid-February that saw him score his goals.
"When he scored his first goal," said Hunchak, "he proved to himself he could be more than just another player in the league and be a guy who could do some damage."
As Edmundson's level of play rose, so did the number and variety of situations Hunchak tossed him into.
"Every time I stepped on the ice I got more confident and I know the coaches saw that in me, so every game they'd put me in different situations and by the end of the year I was playing everything," said Edmundson.
It didn't hurt that he started to fire off the cannon of a slap shot he has -- Edmundson said his slap shot was clocked at 98 mph at a Warriors skills contest.
"In the second half I was playing first- and second-unit power play," said Edmundson. "They loaded me up for the one-timer. I was honored because Hunchak and my other coaches, they knew I had it in me and they gave me good opportunities."
However, Hunchak said there were many times he had to remind Edmundson just how good a player he could be, telling him, "Get out of your shell, kid, you're a good player."
Edmundson, however, might need to hear it a few more times.
"I'm not an offensive defenseman and I know that," he said. "The first half of the year I only had 5 points, but after the break I went on a streak and got 15 points. My passing and my shot have just gone to a whole new level. First half I was kind of scared to use it (his shot) in case it was going to get blocked. In the second half I got the confidence and shot more."
"I don't think he realizes just how good a player he is," said Hunchak. "That's part of his personality, being such a quiet person. I don't think he realizes how good a player he can become. He's got all the tools for the package."
That includes a nasty side he tried to show more and more during the season.
"Back in midget and bantam I kind of shied away from being physical because every time I touched a guy, with my size I would get a penalty," said Edmundson. "But after my last year of midget I knew I had to bring my physical game up and take it to another level.
"I had a great coach back in midget, Brad Wells, and he taught me a lot. He told me to play physical, and then going to Moose Jaw, Dave Hunchak and my other coaches were great for me. They told me to use my size to my advantage because teams like that, scouts like that. Being physical and mean, that's what they all like."
Scouts are starting to like all aspects of Edmundson's game. Central Scouting's MacDonald called him "a sleeper pick" for the Draft, and Hunchak believes we've only seen the early stages of Edmundson's progression.
"There's something real special there," he said.