He was a good role model for me. I know being from a small town he had to move away at a young age to go to Portland. It kind of set me up to want to go the same route he was. - Haydn Fleury
As a toddler Red Deer Rebels defenseman Haydn Fleury had his first brush with the NHL. He just might not have known it at the time.
At age 3 Fleury's babysitter in his hometown of Carlyle, Saskatchewan, was current St. Louis Blues forward Brenden Morrow, then a star with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League and a 1997 first-round pick of the Dallas Stars.
The impact of having Morrow around was immediate.
"Growing up I always wanted to be the same number he was," said Fleury, a potential first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. "He was a good role model for me. I know being from a small town he had to move away at a young age to go to Portland. It kind of set me up to want to go the same route he was. He was just a good role model for me as a young kid."
At the time, and only slightly older than the 17-year-old Fleury is now, Morrow didn't necessarily envision a future in the NHL for the tot.
Instead Morrow, now 35, figured Fleury was just like any other Canadian kid.
"At all hours of the day he'd be with a stick in his hands, I'm sure just like a high percentage of Canadians growing up," Morrow said. "The NHL was a dream of his. I just remember him being a really cute kid and he loved playing hockey.
"I don't even know if he was a rink rat at the time. He had his little hockey stick in the house. You could tell he loved it then."
They've grown apart over the years, as Morrow's NHL career has blossomed into 14 seasons with the Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins and Blues, while Fleury hopes to embark on one with similar success.
But that didn't stop Morrow from reaching out via Twitter to congratulate Fleury on his first major international hockey accomplishment, representing Canada West at the 2013 World Under-17 Challenge.
"Good luck, played that tourney in 95. ... Time flies, enjoy it!" he tweeted to Fleury in November 2012.
It didn't go unnoticed.
"It was kind of cool having an NHL guy tweet at you when you're 16 years old," said Fleury, who will represent Canada again at the 2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Finland later this month.
Morrow and Fleury shared the honor of playing in the Under-17 tournament 17 years apart.
Fleury will try to follow in Morrow's footsteps yet again and become the third player from Carlyle, a town of 1,252 the year he was born, to skate in the NHL after Morrow and journeyman forward Jim McKenzie.
"It would be cool to be that third guy, and good for the town," Fleury said. "For such a small town to have three guys in and around the NHL, it's pretty cool. In a small town it's easy to get sidetracked because all your buddies don't have the same goals as you. It's staying straight, staying on that straight line and looking forward to your goal."
Fleury had eight goals, 38 assists and 46 points in 70 games this season. He is No. 9 among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters and the No. 2 defenceman, behind Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts. He was a top-10 pick in all three of NHL.com's most recent mock drafts.
"I compare him to a Jay Bouwmeester type since he makes it look so easy in your own end," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan said of Fleury. "He can carry it out or with one pass you're on the transition and that's what makes him so effective. His points might not be as high as some of the other defencemen on the board, but he just does so many other things well."
Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald also has liked what he's seen from Fleury.
"He's got good, strong mobility, great vision and has a knack for making that first good outlet pass," MacDonald said. "He's composed and calm with the puck and has an ability of knowing when to join the rush at the right moments."
With those skills Fleury hopes he can join more than just the rush. He hopes he can reunite with his former babysitter and carve a career in the NHL.
Author: Aaron Vickers | NHL.com Correspondent