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by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes
His days of playing Major-Junior hockey are over, and now Nick Ross hopes he's on to bigger and better things. In his way, however, will be bigger and better players than he's used to playing against.

Ross, 20, is spending the final weeks of August in the Valley trying to adjust to playing hockey against men instead of boys at the voluntary Athletes Resource workouts in Scottsdale. There he is competing with and against current and former NHL players, and a few American Hockey League players.

“It’s a big jump from junior to pro hockey,” Ross said. “Obviously, the players are much bigger and faster. Playing junior you’ve got that extra second and now that’s gone. Hopefully, playing with the pros out here the next few weeks will help me make the jump and be ready for training camp.”

The Coyotes selected Ross, a defenseman with a powerful left-handed wrist shot and a penchant for making eye-popping open-ice hits, in the first round of the 2007 NHL Draft with the 30th overall pick. He will be at next month’s training camp hoping to make the roster. To do so, he will have to show the coaches and management that he’s ready to play like a pro.

“We’re happy with Nick,” Coyotes Director of Prospect Development Sean Burke said. “He’s played his full junior time so we’re real anxious to see him now at the next level. He’s very laid back and very calm on the ice. Now we really want to see him get to the level where the intensity is there every day, and I think playing at the professional level will bring that out of him. We’re looking forward to seeing that.”

(Photo courtesy of Vancouver Giants.)
Ross played for three teams in the Western Hockey League over the past four-plus seasons. His first stop was Regina, where he played a supporting role. Next, at Kamloops, he became a go-to-guy. Finally, playing for Vancouver under Head Coach Don Hay, Ross learned what it took to be part of a winning team.

“I was really lucky because I played in three really great cities and organizations,” Ross said. “I made a lot of friends in those three cities and I am grateful. Every team had a great group of guys and coaches to work with, and everywhere that I played I learned how to be a different player.”

He added, “Don Hay really taught me how to work hard. Hopefully, I can carry that on to the next level.”

In 288 WHL games, Ross notched 33 goals and 112 assists.

Ross began playing hockey when he was six years old. A key part of the game challenged him early on.

“I used to be a terrible skater so my dad put me into power skating (classes),” Ross said. “I’d like to be a bit faster – everyone would – but I think my skating has come a long way.”

The Coyotes like his skills.

(Photo courtesy of Athletes Resource.)
“Nick’s a guy that has some bite to him and he’s tough,” Burke said. “I just think with four years in junior he didn’t have to play that way those last couple of years so we’d like to see him now get back to playing with that edge. Again, the one thing we really need to see with Nick is that intensity level every day. If he brings that he’s got the skill to play very well at both ends of the rink.”

The Coyotes added veteran defensemen Jim Vandermeer and Adrian Aucoin in the off-season and signed Keith Yandle to a multi-year contract. In other words, with Ed Jovanovski, Zbynek Michalek and Kurt Sauer retruning, there’s not a lot of room on the depth chart for the 2009-10 season. Still, Ross plans to enter camp optimistic that he can earn a roster spot.

“I am really excited and anxious for camp to start,” Ross said. “Hopefully, I will make an impression there, but if that doesn’t work out then I’ll continue to grow by playing against men instead of boys. I think anywhere I play this season I am going to learn a lot and grow as a player.”

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