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'HE'S JUST A NATURAL'

Moncton Wildcats bench boss and GM John Torchetti - a man with a lengthy NHL coaching resume - says Flames first-round pick Jakob Pelletier is an incredible leader

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Standing tall is a quality not measured by a height chart.

"We were down in this one game and not playing particularly well," Moncton Wildcats' coach/GM John Torchetti is recalling, "and he basically picked the whole bench up, giving the guys a pep talk.

"Stuff like: 'This is not how we play. This isn't how we've been taught the game. This isn't our brand of hockey.'

"I'm like: 'Geez, this is great. I don't have to say a word.'

"I mean, he was … good. Guys listened. They responded.

"This is what a true leader is. 

"Not afraid to come up on the bus and say: 'Hey, can we try this?' Or: 'What about this?'

"He's an assistant captain. If we didn't have a 20-year-old captain, he probably would've been our captain.

"But that moment on the bench when he said his peace was my moment when I felt: You know, this kid's gonna be a first-rounder. At that time, most people had him pegged for the second round.

"When I arrived, you know, I was hoping to push him to find another level.

"Didn't have to.

"He got there himself."

With their first pick in the 2019 NHL Draft at Rogers Arena on Friday evening, the Flames chose Wildcats' 39-goal/89-point Jakob Pelletier, a 5-foot-9, 165-lb. all-industry left winger.

Small? Only for the small-minded.

 

Video: "It's just incredible. It's a dream come true."

 

In making the selection, 26th overall, organizational scouting reports were augmented by a goodly amount of inside intel. Calgary GM Brad Treliving happens to be a long-ago teammate of Torchetti's in ECHL Winston-Salem ("Yeah, back in the day," muses Torchetti. "Way back in the day"). He and Flames' head coach Bill Peters, meanwhile, found themselves together in the Chicago Blackhawks' organization for a spell, Peters in charge of AHL Rockford, Torchetti assisting with the big club.

"So he's going to a good family," says Torchetti of his pupil's eventual NHL home. "I know that, knowing Tre and Billy. Which is what you want for all your players, moving forward.

"His hockey education's only going to get better working with that staff."

The Flames willingness to develop and then introduce younger players into the lineup also bodes well for Pelletier.

"Young guys, to me, are great to play," says Torchetti. "The passion these kids have nowadays … let 'em play. They're going to make mistakes but after 20 games, once they get confident, they're just as good as anybody else." 

 

 

Torchetti's resume is extensive, including NHL stops in Tampa Bay, L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, Minnesota and Detroit. In 2010, he was part of Joel Quenneville's staff for the Hawks' Stanley Cup run.

Meaning his feel for NHL-calibre talents has been polished to a bright, reflective sheen.

"Jakob is the type of kid," praises the Boston-born Torchetti, "that's just thirsty for knowledge. That's what you want. Most of them are when they get to this level but he's different.

"It's 12:30, we're not even on the ice for an hour or so and he's already got everyone in the room fired up. 'Let's be ready for our film.' And he means it but he does it in a playful way. For workouts it's always 'Let's go!', making sure the players are there on time.

"For a 17-year-old, pretty impressive."

Torchetti's expanding faith in the Quebec City-born Pelletier was never better demonstrated than when he shifted him off the 'Cats' top line alongside Jeremy McKenna and Mika Cyr, to partner with Alan Capannelli and Alexander Kohvanov.

"I did it to speed up my centremen and it worked out great. Didn't matter what line I put him on, he produced more. That's a good sign. 

"He almost averaged a goal-a-game for me, so: Wow!"

"He's so high-energy. Plays high-end every night. You keep waiting, wondering: 'Geez, when's it gonna stop?!' And then you wait some more."

 

 

Over his nearly three decades in the coaching dodge, Torchetti has worked with a ton of high-end young talents which has given him excellent reference points.  

"I don't like to compare players. Patrick Kane and (Jonathan) Toews, when they were 18, (Mikael) Granlund, (Charlie) Coyle, (Jason) Zucker. I coached them all.

"I'd say (Pelletier's) got the engine of a (Brad) Marchand, for sure. The skill level is getting there. And he's compete level isn't going to stop.

He wanted to play in the playoffs so badly, hurt his ankle, couldn't even step on the ice and he was out there trying it.

"That tells you a lot about the character.

"He's just a natural. He's him. There's nothing phoney about that kid.

"Nothing.

"In a great mood all the time. Comes to work every day. Great in practice because he's the tempo.

"Great personality. He draws people to him. And funny, funny. Oh, my goodness.

"You try and have your little moments with players but you have a lot with him.

"He's contagious."

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