Pat Maroon always had the talent. But discovering the personal discipline has been a quest that has run parallel to his desire to play in the NHL. Now that he's found it, he is climbing the ladder to heights no one expected when the Philadelphia Flyers risked a 2007 sixth-round pick (No. 161) on him.
General Manager Paul Holmgren told reporters at the time, "We took a flying leap with him."
The Flyers soon could be rewarded for their leap of faith.
Maroon, a 6-foot-4 power forward, led all Ontario Hockey League rookies with 55 assists and 90 points last season, and his 35 goals ranked second. Maroon played last season with the London Knights at 223 pounds, and he reported to Philadelphia's prospect development camp in late July at 220.
That's a far cry from when Maroon was playing youth hockey in St. Louis. Back then, he was 6-1 and 260 pounds, earning him the nickname "Fat Pat."
Coaches liked Maroon, though, and one of them encouraged former St. Louis Blues forward Kelly Chase to scout him. Chase, along with former teammate and Hall of Famer Al MacInnis, had just purchased a North American Hockey League team in Texarkana, Arkansas. Chase was looking for players to take with him for a season before moving the franchise to St. Louis.
Chase saw the "Fat Pat," but he also saw what others might have missed – great hands and vision. Chase and MacInnis talked to Maroon and his parents, and together told them just how far Pat's talent could take him if he was willing to do what it took to get himself into shape – at least, a shape other than round.
"Kelly just sat down with me and my mom and my dad and said, 'Your son has the potential to make it to the NHL or get drafted into the NHL and play professional hockey,'" Maroon told NHL.com. "You have to have the right attitude and get in shape, get your eating habits better, and I think everything will come and fall into place for you."
Chase saw Maroon was willing to work hard, but he just didn't know how to work.
"He loved being on the ice, he loved playing," Chase said. "He didn't know how to train. He loved being on the ice. He was a rink rat. We said, 'You have potential, but this is what you have to do to commit yourself.' He's a big, happy-go-lucky kid that loves the game."
Maroon had 60 points in 57 games with the Texarkana Bandits in 2005-06 and made the NAHL's All-Rookie team, but it wasn't good enough to get him drafted.
"The only thing they (Chase and MacInnis) told me was work out every day and do the right things to make you a better hockey player," said Maroon. "It was my own decision to go out in the gym and work out, ride the bike. My second year, in St. Louis, I did the hockey treadmill throughout the whole season. I worked out."
He lost a remarkable 30 pounds over the summer, and as his weight went down, his performance shot up. He totaled 40 goals and 95 points in 57 games in 2006-07 and was named league MVP. Philadelphia was one of many teams paying attention, and it certainly didn't hurt that Maroon had Chase as an advocate. Chase had played with the Hartford Whalers while Holmgren was coach and general manager.
"I called Paul Holmgren and I had a good rapport with him when we were in Hartford," Chase said. "Holmgren said they had him rated and he said he was going to look into it. I said I think this kid can play and he's really going to turn things around here in the next couple years."
After the draft, Maroon had the option of a hockey scholarship to Ferris State University or playing for the London Knights, the team that had taken him in Round 11 of the 2004 Ontario Hockey League draft.
"I did pretty good in (London's 2004) rookie camp and I went back for main camp," Maroon said. "I came back overweight and out of shape and they said you're not ready for this and they sent me home."
He's got million-dollar hands. He can put the puck in the net and make plays." - Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube on Pat Maroon
Three seasons later, though, Maroon had cut his weight to 237 pounds – better, but not great. London hired a personal trainer for Maroon, and during the season his weight dropped to 217, and his body fat dropped from 17 percent to nine.
"I said I think I can play in this league (OHL) and I proved a lot of people wrong," said Maroon. "I went up there with a good attitude, thinking they would help me out, and I helped their team out and it all worked out."
"We're happy to have him," Knights GM Mark Hunter told the Flyers' web site. "It isn't just his size. He has good hands, good skills. He can pass the puck. He's a go-to guy, and that is something we need. He's a difference-maker. He can beat guys 1-on-1. There are some things he needs to clean up. He needs to get himself in better shape and then his skating will get better, but he's working on it."
The work paid off with a Flyers contract and an invitation to play with the club's American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms, last season. He went scoreless in one game, and practiced with the Phantoms and Flyers during their run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
|Pat Maroon saw action in one game for the Philadelphia Phantoms last season. (Pedro Cancel) |
"Real big guy, great hands," said Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, who coached the Phantoms last season. "He's got million-dollar hands. He can put the puck in the net and make plays."
Before he went home to St. Louis, though, he had an exit meeting with Holmgren and Berube, and they pulled no punches. They said they were happy with Maroon's progress, but by no means was he a finished product.
"We sat him down when he was in at the end of the Phantoms season and talked to him in a very harsh way about what he needed to do in terms of conditioning, and he's worked at it," said Holmgren. "I think it shows on the ice. I think his skating still needs to pick up a notch. He's got great hands. He's got a great offensive mind for the game."
He has focused this summer on sticking to his diet and sticking to his workout regimen, and he's feeling the benefits.
"I feel a big difference (being lighter)," Maroon said. "My feet got a little faster. They're not fast, but they'll get better. It's a process. Losing weight was a process, the eating habits is a process.
"I love waking up and working out, thinking to myself, if I go in the gym every day from here on out, I can be a better hockey player, be better conditioned to go out there and play in the NHL."
"If his skating continues to get better and his conditioning continues to get better," said Holmgren, "he's got a chance to play."
That's a far cry from where the people who called him Fat Pat assumed he would be.
"People said, 'Maroon's slow, Maroon's fat,'" said Maroon. "You know what? Look at me now. I shove it right back in their face. … People say I'm not going to make it? Good for you, I'm not going to make it. To me, I am going to make it. They think what they think and I think what I think and I move on with it. I just block it out. I know how to play my game and no one is going to stop me."