At age seven, Colin Suellentrop made one of the biggest decisions of his life.
Given an option by his father to either play summer soccer or roller hockey, Suellentrop chose hockey – after all it was cooler to play a sport on roller blades than it was just to run around.
It was the road less travelled in Plantation, Florida, a quiet suburban community situated between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.
Hockey was still relatively new in Florida at the time. The Panthers had only been around for six years and not many youth hockey programs had taken off yet.
But Suellentrop fell in love with the sport. He asked his dad if he could trade in those roller blades for ice skates and try the sport at another level.
It turned out, Suellentrop was better than expected. He started playing in a top tier AAA travel program in Florida – with fellow Flyers defensive prospect and U.S. World Junior team member Shayne Gostisbehere as his teammate and frequent defensive partner.
The team was known as the Junior Panthers and was coached by former Panther Ray Sheppard.
It was then he knew he was developing into an NHL prospect. So he moved to Detroit to play his major bantam and midget minor year.
He was drafted into the OHL by the Oshawa Generals, and is in his fourth season with Oshawa.
The Flyers drafted him in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL entry draft (116th overall) and have been happy with his progress so far.
“We’ve been trying in the last few years to draft some bigger defensemen,” said Flyers Director of Hockey Operations Chris Pryor. “He’s a bigger kid (6-2, 200) who plays a physical game and makes a simple first pass.”
Pryor has been happy with Suellentrop’s development with the Generals so far, crediting the work that the Generals have done with him.
“He’s developed nicely,” Pryor said. “They had a coaching change this year bringing in D.J. Smith, who was an assistant coach at Windsor and had good success and has carried that on to Oshawa and the team has responded and played well. That’s been good for Colin because he plays a lot and it’s good for his development.”
Suellentrop is getting big minutes in Smith’s scheme. He’s playing in all situations and getting close to 30 minutes a night.
“D.J. has helped me out a lot,” Suellentrop said. “He’s all about teaching and helping out the players and he’s done that for me. He’s letting me play a lot of minutes and is showing confidence in my ability and I think that’s been something that has helped build my confidence in turn and made me play a lot better.”
In his first year at Oshawa, Suellentrop really struggled with the defensive part of his game, going minus-37 in 54 games.
And while plus/minus doesn’t always indicate how a player is performing, that number certainly stands out like an ugly wart.
Since then though, Suellentrop has been a plus player in the three seasons since. Suellentrop is often playing on the Generals top defensive pairing and is playing against the top skill players in the OHL.
“It’s been going really good,” Suellentrop said. “I’ve improved a lot. I’ve spoken a lot with (Flyers director of player development) Ian Laperriere and he likes where I’m headed. I think being asked to be an alternate captain has helped a lot too. I’ve been steady and physical I think, and the season is going well.”
The Flyers aren’t complaining about his playing time, and hope to see him continue to turn into the kind of defenseman the Flyers can count on as part of their future.
For an organization that hasn’t had the greatest history in developing their own defensemen, it’s nice to see the team being excited about some youngsters in the system for a change.
Erik Gustafsson showed signs last season with the Flyers that he is NHL-ready. He was having a nice season for the Phantoms before a foot injury that has proven to be worse than originally thought has derailed him of late.
Marc-Andre Bourdon was in a similar situation a season ago, but has struggled with complications from concussions. If he can get back on the ice, he’s another player the organization likes.
Brandon Manning needs a little more seasoning in the AHL, but he’s another guy who the Flyers like – especially his big shot from the point.
Then there’s Gostisbehere and Suellentrop, two guys that are a couple years away, but the Flyers are very excited about and who may be teammates yet again in the not too distant future.
“From last year to this year you can see growth in both guys,” Pryor said. “Colin has taken more responsibility and you can make an argument that he’s their best or one of their top two defensemen in Oshawa. We couldn’t ask for a better situation for him from a development standpoint.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37