The Vancouver Canucks may have surprised some with the selection of Patrick White with the 25th pick in Friday’s National Hockey League Entry Draft at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
Bliss Littler, however, was not among those caught off guard by the pick.
Littler is the Head Coach and General Manager of the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League and had the 18-year-old centreman on his roster not once, but twice during the 2006-07 hockey season.
White played eight games prior to his Minnesota high school season in Tri-City and four more when the high school season was over amassing eight goals in the dozen games he suited up for the Storm. It wasn’t a lot of time in the USHL, but it was enough for Littler to know he had a special player.
“We expected him to go someplace in the first round. We had talked to a number of teams and we felt that he’d go anywhere from 12th to 30th,” Littler tells Canucks.com from Kearney, Nebraska, home of the Tri-City Storm. “We talked to enough teams that we felt he’d go in the first round even though some publication had him down around 43 or 45. One of their (the Canucks) scouts saw him a bunch this year, so it didn’t surprise me at all that Vancouver took him.”
And Littler believes that with the experience he’ll gain at the University of Minnesota this fall, White has the necessary tools to develop into a solid scorer in the professional ranks.
“He’s a big kid that’s strong on his skates and he doesn’t need a lot of opportunities to score. He makes the most out of his opportunities,” the coach says. “He had eight goals in 12 games in our league which just doesn’t happen. Those numbers didn’t happen for Kyle Okposo (the New York Islanders first pick (7th overall) in the 2006 draft) to put up those numbers as quickly as he did. We feel Patrick’s a pretty special player.”
But as with all young hockey players, there’s plenty in White’s game that needs to be developed. Although Littler figures much of that will come with age and experience. And a few years down the line, the coach figures the Canucks will have a player who’s ready to be that big centreman the franchise has coveted for so long.
“I just see him going to Minnesota for a year or two and playing with the players he’ll play with there, he’s going to progress into a nice hockey player. If you’re looking for one thing (to work on), I guess the speed at the next level,” says Littler. “At his level of high school hockey, he was bigger and stronger than everybody else and he could just power his way to the net. He scored a lot of his goals in tight. He goes hard to the net. I see him turning into a power forward that has really good hands and doesn’t need a lot of chances. He gets an opportunity in front and he’s got the quick release and he gets the puck on net.”
As good as Patrick White was on the ice for Littler’s Tri-City Storm, the coach was even more impressed with the way the Associated Press Boys High School Player of the Year handled himself off the ice.
“He comes across as an extremely humble kid and he’s a very likeable guy,” says Littler. “You’ve got to imagine that he came into the locker room at the end of the year after he’d been gone for four months and he came back in and got everyone’s respect. That’s tough to do and he had absolutely no trouble at all. All the kids were all glad he was back.”
Now it’s the Canucks who are glad to have Patrick White in their system. And since the Canucks had clearly spent time scouting White during the season, perhaps it should come as no surprise that they dipped into the USHL later in the draft using their 6th round pick (176th overall) to take centre Taylor Matson
from Des Moines. Those two were among 26 players (including four first rounders) chosen from the emerging junior development league.
“We’re awful proud of our league. When you really look at the numbers, there’s only 12 teams in our league and you can make a pretty good case that our league has come a long way in a short period of time,” Littler says of the USHL’s growth. “I think everybody across the board is proud of the kids that were taken and you see more and more kids every year cracking NHL line-ups that have USHL ties.”
And Bliss Littler’s quite certain it won’t be that long before Patrick White is cracking the Vancouver line-up and proving why the Canucks made him their first pick in the 2007 draft.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at email@example.com