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FAMILY TREE

NHL Draft prospect Alex Vlasic looks to bring 'big stick' and defensive acumen to pro game one day

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Surely, with his father, John, having grown up along the mighty St. Lawrence, and his francophone mother, Tara, teaching the very language, NHL Draft prospect Alex Vlasic is fluently bilingual.

"Uh," the No. 38-ranked North American skater nervously groaned at the annual Scouting Combine earlier this month.

"No.

"Not even a little bit.

"[My mom] didn't want me in her French class. She said I'd be too much of a distraction."

While Vlasic - a Chicago, IL., native and product of the U.S. National Team Development Program - may lack the dialect of mom and dad's upbringing, when it comes to what's made him one of the hottest tickets for the upcoming NHL Draft, those traits have indeed been passed down through the family.

Alex's cousin, Marc-Edouard, currently plays for the San Jose Sharks and while the two aren't especially close, the former Olympian has been a valuable sounding board for the younger Vlasic as he goes through the draft process.

His older sister, Emma - senior forward and captain of the Yale University Bulldogs - even more so.

Both have been an inspiration as he looks to add to the family legacy, beginning on June 21 in Vancouver, B.C.

"I'm always asking for advice, asking for tips about handling the pressure and going through the process of becoming a professional, or reaching a higher rank," Vlasic said.

"With Marc-Edouard, it's pretty cool to have someone so close to me having the kind of success he has, and to be playing in the league I dream of playing in, too.

"I try to model my game after him the best I can. He works so hard in the off-season and stuff, so if I can do what he does I might be successful, too."

 

Video: "My defensive abilities are my biggest strengths"

 

Alex, though, has the edge in at least one critical stat.

"Wingspan," the D man deadpanned after crushing the competition in that category at the Combine.

"Being a bigger guy, it definitely helped me out.

"I knew I'd have the best score on that one."

At 6-foot-6, Vlasic clocked in at a mind-boggling 80.75 inches - a full inch more than second-place Cade Webber, who stands equal to his counterpart's towering vert.

That, above all, certainly makes Vlasic one of the most intriguing of the draft's many talented blueliners.

But he also knows he has plenty to work to do to make the most of his gift.

"Being a bigger guy, my footspeed isn't going to be as good as the best of the best," Vlasic said. "The smaller guys, and the forwards I'm going up against, they're more agile - so I can always work on that and make sure I'm quick enough and even faster than those guys.

"So, that's a big part of what I'm focused on to help grow my game.

"Then, I also think I need to fill out a little bit - you know, add some muscle to handle some of the older, more mature guys in college next year. That was probably my biggest takeaway this year. I'm definitely a stronger player now, am heavier on my stick in the corners and with those net-front battles, and I think I'll take another step against even tougher competition next year."

 

 

Vlasic, who had 27 points (4G, 23A) in 61 games with the NTDP last year, has committed to Boston University for the fall.

It's there that he feels his game - and, more importantly, his long-term development - will be better served as he preps for the pro turn somewhere down the line.

"Just knowing my role," he said of what he took most out of his draft year. "Towards the end of the year, and especially [at the 2019 Under-18 World Championship] in Sweden, I think I became that defensive defenceman - a shutdown guy. I think I adapted to that and played that role pretty well when I was there."

Vlasic is one of 17 NTDP graduates that attended the Combine earlier this month.

All are set to be drafted, with five or six possibly going in the Top 10 alone.

While this figures to be a record-setting year for the program itself, the notoriety wouldn't be possible without an elite crop to choose from.

Vlasic included.

"Coming into the program, we obviously have the best players in our age group," he said. "All the guys are used to being the best player on their team. Everybody had to adapt to their role and know their role. It took me not too long to figure that out. I think I was OK at that, and it went pretty well for me.

"But for me, as a player, I have some pretty good strengths like my stick and my defensive abilities, breaking up plays and separating guys from the puck.

"That's what I'm known for and what I hope to bring to the pro game one day."

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