By Dan Marrazza
Being 17 years old is not easy. It's even more difficult if you are a hockey player.
The year that elite hockey players are 17, every move they make and every word they say is micro-analyzed, with the slightest misstep having the chance to jeopardize their draft status.
For most hockey players with ambitions of being drafted by an NHL team, their 17-year-old season is stress personified. For Christian Dvorak, his draft year was a nightmare.
Things started well enough for the speedy Dvorak, who came out of the gates in 2013-14 as a steady point producer for the London Knights. Then during a game in December against Connor McDavid's Erie Otters, Dvorak’s promising draft year turned catastrophic when a freak accident on the ice resulted in a torn ACL. He missed the rest of the season, with his draft status – he was originally forecasted as a potential first-round pick – suddenly in doubt as he fell out of sight of NHL scouts for six months leading up to the draft.
"It was hard not playing," Dvorak said. "I tried to go on road trips and be with the guys as much as I could. You try to stay with the team as much as possible, but it's so hard watching games in the stands. That's not a fun feeling. Going through that was no fun at all."
Fortunately for Dvorak, Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney's scouting staff had seen enough of him early in the season to be convinced of his credentials. Arizona selected Dvorak in the second round, 58th overall, at the 2014 NHL Draft, about 30-35 slots below where he was projected to go had he not been injured.
A year later, it's starting to look like the Coyotes have hit a home run with Dvorak. Healthy again, he tore through his junior season with the London Knights with a vengeance in 2014-15, finishing fifth in the Ontario Hockey League with a mind-boggling 109 points (41 goals, 68 assists) in 66 games.
|Christian Dvorak. Photo by Nancy Battaglia/USA Hockey. |
Last week, he attended USA Hockey's Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., where he emerged as one of the finalists to play on Team USA's 2016 World Junior team.
"This season was a year for me to prove to everybody who I was," Dvorak said. "During my rehab, that was a big motivation. I wanted to get back as soon as possible, as strong as possible. I wanted to prove to everybody how good I know I can be."
Dvorak spent a large portion of last week at Evaluation Camp skating on a line filled with Arizona connections. The combination included Matthew Tkachuk, Keith’s son and a probable high draft pick in 2016, and Auston Matthews, the Scottsdale native who is projected to be drafted first overall next June.
The trio helped lead the United States to a convincing 6-1 win against Finland on the final day of camp on Saturday. For Dvorak, it was an ideal way to depart Lake Placid on a positive note, setting himself up perfectly to get off to a strong start in his junior season this fall and continue to establish himself as a high-end NHL prospect.
"I try not to set too many goals," Dvorak said. "I just try to work as hard as possible. I'm not too vocal. I like to fly below the radar sometimes."
Although with his performance as of late, it's hard to envision Dvorak flying under the radar much longer.