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David Levin's remarkable journey continues with the Coyotes

Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, the 19-year-old has cracked Arizona's rookie camp roster

by Alex Kinkopf @AEKinkopf / Arizona Coyotes

David Levin didn't hit the ice until he was 12.

The 19-year old's story, said Coyotes Assistant General Manager and Director of Scouting Lindsay Hofford, "is something that only happens in a Disney movie, something that you say just isn't possible."

Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Levin developed his passion for sport through his parents. His father, Pavel, was a professional soccer player in his home country of Latvia; his mother, from Russia, had keen familiarity with hockey.

"When my Dad moved to Israel, he needed a job. When he lived in Latvia, they used to skate outside in the winter, so he eventually opened a roller rink [in Israel]," Levin said.

That was his introduction. But it was only one part of Levin's learning curve. He and Pavel spent many late nights in Tel Aviv watching NHL games on television.

"It was a seven-hour difference with the televised games, so at two in the morning we'd watch games together. Seeing those games and having my Dad describe how (the NHL) was 'the best league in the world' -- that was a big deal to me."

In time, hockey developed into a passion and, eventually, into a dream.

Levin managed to convince his parents to let him move to Canada at the age of 12 and live with relatives in a Toronto suburb. It was then that he first took to the ice.

And it was there that his relationship with Hofford, then the Hockey Director at Hill Academy in Concord, Ontario, began.

Hofford watched some of Levin's initial on-ice practices. Levin struggled, of course. His skating was as elementary as would be expected. He often struggled to stay upright. However, as that skill improved, Hofford began to see something special.

"He was making passes other kids didn't see, making passes into open space that hit his linemates in stride, just perfectly," Hofford told Sportsnet Canada in 2015. "He had an awareness of where everyone on the ice was. Maybe some people don't think that's a skill, but it is, and it's probably the hardest one to develop and the hardest for scouts to evaluate."

An incredibly short two years later, Levin found himself playing in the Greater Toronto Minor Midget Hockey League for the Don Mills Flyers (Ontario). Hofford was his coach. (A Flyers teammate that year, Dennis Busby, is playing alongside Levin as a member of the Coyotes' 2019 rookie camp roster; Busby was drafted by Arizona in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.)

After a remarkable season with the Flyers, where he scored 39 goals and registered 41 assists to total 80 points in 55 games played, Levin was the first overall pick in the 2015 Ontario Hockey League draft.

"It's an incredible story, because something like this has just never been done before," Hofford said. "This is a player from Israel who started with roller hockey, and then ended up as the number one pick in the OHL draft. He has skill and character, and now he's knocking on the door here with an NHL team in an NHL camp. He's a feisty, aggressive player with a high skill level. He's only really played (ice) hockey for five or six years, so I think there's a lot left in his tank."

During his years in the OHL with the Sudbury Wolves, where he played for four seasons, he was a teammate of current Coyotes defenseman Kyle Capobianco from 2015-17.

"I just saw Kyle again," Levin said, "We've been talking, and we caught up about what we've been up to since we last saw each other. I don't think we've seen each other for three years. I'm really happy for him, he used to be my captain."

Levin was ready for his NHL adventure, but there was one more challenge - and this time it was off the ice.

Israel requires a three-year military commitment from its citizens. That conscription usually begins at age 18.

Levin was worried. He felt that that commitment would end his NHL hopes. "If I couldn't play for those three years, I'd be done," he said.

So, last summer, he petitioned the Israeli military and began a series of meetings with the Israeli government. With help from the NHL, OHL, and his agent, his duty was deferred until age 26. It bought him time.

"David's journey to the Coyotes is an inspirational story and we are proud to have him here," said President & CEO Ahron Cohen. "I know he is making the entire country of Israel proud with his accomplishments on the ice." 

The temporary reprieve also allowed Levin to attend two NHL camps, last season -- the Toronto Maple Leafs' 2018 development camp and the Carolina Hurricanes' 2018 rookie camp.

"Those experiences, they were huge. It's hard to put it into words, but I still have one goal, and that's to make it. It doesn't matter how many camps I go to, I've just got to make it."

Meanwhile, that business Pavel Levin started when his son was a toddler has blossomed into a complex. The roller rink now includes a state-of-the-art ice rink, as well. More than 2,000 youth players attend the rink's hockey academy.

"We have about a couple thousand kids in the hockey school," Levin said with obvious pride. "It's a big hockey rink, only the second one in Israel, and it's really professional. I'm really happy because when I go home, I can train there. It's five minutes away from my house."

And, of course, he's a rock star when he's at the rink.

"Every time I go back home those 2,000 kids want to take pictures with me," he said with a smile. "They want to play with me and they want me to teach them the game. It's unbelievable."

Levin sees a pair of basic similarities between hockey in his home country and what he's experiencing in the Valley.

One of those is the Coyotes' grassroots approach to growing hockey in Arizona.

"We're trying to get more kids to play hockey in Israel constantly, that's our goal," he said. "I see the same goal being pursued here in Arizona."

The other is the weather.

"It's super hot, here, it's the same as back home," he said.

But, of course, he's not hoping for anything to cool off too soon, especially when it comes to his NHL dream.

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