If Devils prospect Michael Vukojevic wants an example of the type of player he could become in the NHL, he simply needs to look behind him.
That's because the Kitchener Rangers defenseman plays for former NHL blueliner Jay McKee, who is Kitchener's head coach. McKee carved out an 802-game career at the top level playing essentially the way Vukojevic needs to if he wants to become an effective pro.
"He's played the game and so having him (as coach) has been awesome for me," said Vukojevic.
Vukojevic's main attraction is his size and skating ability. He's 6'3" and about 210 pounds. His frame will take additional size as he matures, so he fits the mold of a prototypical big defender. To that end, he has some bite to his game but as a good skater, he's mobile enough to be able to use his size without it being a hindrance.
The term 'meat and potatoes' has been used more than once to describe Vukojevic's game.
"I play a little nasty," he said, "I like to use my size and strength."
McKee provided a bit more detail:
"He plays tough and he can be very tough to play against, hard in front of the net and in the corners. He has good puck movement and (instincts)…but I wouldn't call him an offensive defenseman."
Video: DRAFT | Michael Vukojevic
When last season ended, Vukojevic was earmarked as a potential riser among his class mostly because he showed some offensive flashes as the Rangers made a long playoff run. His stock stayed flat - the Devils taking him 81st was about his early-season consensus ranking - but Vukojevic endured some up-and-down patches. He started slow, which is not unusual for a player in his draft-eligible season on a team that had significant graduation holes. But Vukojevic played well enough post-Christmas to solidify his draft position and a selection for Team Canada at the World U-18s in Sweden, where his squad finished fourth.
The Rangers season ended with a quick four-game exit at the hands of the eventual Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm. The club is expected to be much stronger this season.
As McKee pointed out generally, the real work starts once you get picked by an NHL club. But the evergreen outlook is that Vukojevic could blossom as the Rangers improve and he gets more opportunity on McKee's squad. He's played just 92 games with the Rangers, where he moved to after a short stint with Green Bay in the USHL.
"I think that is really about development," said McKee, "…it really isn't about where you are drafted. Round 1, 3, or 7…it's about where you are when you're 25."
The hockey world is more like a village - Devils' prospect Graeme Clarke made that precise point immediately after being drafted - and the connections are multi-pronged. For example, during his time living in Canada as a minor hockey player, Jack Hughes and Vukojevic developed a friendship through hockey and playing baseball together in the summer.
"Jack's a good buddy of mine," said Vukojevic.
Perhaps Vukojevic's best trait is his outlook. McKee beams about his pupil's attitude. Vukojevic's positive vibe at being selected by the Devils was notable in the aftermath when he spoke to the media.
"My legs are literally shaking right now," he said, his face locked in a perma-grin even after interviews broke up.
McKee provided some context:
"He just really wants to (develop) and it shows in pretty much everything he does at the rink. He's the son of two teachers (Miro and Ana) who have taught him the (value)…of hard work."