Sensing that the moment he had waited his entire life for was at hand, Kevin Marshall took a deep breath, glanced up toward the rafters of the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, and reminded himself to keep his thoughts in check.
It’s a scenario that plays itself out literally hundreds of times on draft day, as the world’s best amateurs sit and wait for their names to be called by an NHL team, while writhing in emotional states ranging from anxiety to panic.
“I would say I was somewhere in the middle,” mused Marshall, a rugged-but-affable 18-year-old defenseman who helped lead the Lewiston MAINEiacs to the QMJHL championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup Playoffs just a few months earlier. “I was very nervous, but calm at the same time. It’s a tough feeling to describe.
|Kevin Marshall speaks with the media after being selected in the second round by the Flyers at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft in Columbus, Ohio. (Flyers Photos) |
“The main thing was, I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, didn’t want to make any promises to myself about what could happen. I was confident that I would be drafted and I wanted to enjoy it all the best I could. The waiting was tough, though.”
For Marshall, the wait ended during the early stages of the second round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. It was there, with the 41st overall selection, that the Flyers nabbed him, after moving up via a trade with the Washington Capitals that caught some observers off guard.
Listed at 6’0’’, 185 pounds, Marshall is not blessed with the size or physical make-up that scouts tend to look for in players with the potential to make an impact at the pro level. What he lacks in stature, however, he more than makes up for with an ultra-competitive nature, aggressive defense and a reputation as an emerging leader on and off the ice.
“Kevin is just an outstanding competitor,” explained Lewiston Head coach and General Manager Ed Harding. “Above all else, that is the most important asset he brings to our team, and the most important thing he will bring to any other team as his career moves forward. He is relentless on the ice and just never quits.”
Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren echoed those sentiments.
“He’s just one of those players that’s always in the opponent’s face,” he said. “He plays the game hard, and is not a big guy, but everyday as a coach, you know what you’re going to get from him, which is a good effort.”
Home is Where the Hockey Is
Marshall was born on March 10, 1989 in Boucherville, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River.
The town is perhaps best known for housing the headquarters of Rona, Canada's leading distributor and retailer in hardware, home improvement and gardening products, founded in 1939.
“It was a great place to grow up and will always be home to me,” Marshall said of his hometown, which boasts a population of roughly 35,000. “There is good hockey in Boucherville, great systems and teams, and really good coaches and support.”
Boucherville has produced some really good players, like Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who plays with the Minnesota Wild, and his younger brother, Francois, who plays with Baie-Comeau in the Q.
Former NHL defenseman Stephan Quintal, who played the bulk of his 1,000-plus game NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens, also came out of the Boucherville ranks.
“It’s just a great area for hockey,” Marshall continued. “Personally, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with hockey. I’ve wanted to play my entire life. I’ve wanted to make it to the NHL my entire life. I was on skates very early and probably in a league by four or five.
“I will always credit my parents, not just for helping me get started, but for all of their support over the years, even to this day. You hear it a lot, but there is no way young hockey players can excel without the support of their parents and all they do to take time out of their lives to help us live our dreams.”
Given Boucheville’s proximity to Montreal, it would only make sense for Marshall to grow up a fan of the Canadiens, right?
“Well, actually, no,” he said, with a laugh. “To tell you the truth, I was never really a big fan of them. I can’t really say why. I never had a favorite NHL team. I guess I’ve always just followed the entire league, just an interest in the whole sport.
“I did get to go to Bell Centre and watch some NHL games, which was great. But, I wasn’t there to cheer for the Habs, even though they are the popular team in all of Quebec.”
What about favorite players? Who did he watch or idolize while growing up?
“The same thing, pretty much. I really didn’t follow any particular players,” he explained. “I always watched the great players on TV, just to see what they would do and try to learn how they handle themselves. But I didn’t have any favorites.” Into the Fire
Marshall rose quickly through the ranks of youth hockey in and around the Boucherville area, eventually landing with the highly-regarded C.C. Lemoyne program at the AAA Quebec Midget level. A strong 2004-05 campaign there led to increased attention from regional scouts.
“At that point, coming out of midget, I already knew that I wanted to make a living playing hockey,” he said. “I mean, I always knew that, but at this point, I had the confidence to believe that I could do it, that I could move forward into major junior and continue my career. It was an exciting time.”
The Lewiston MAINEiacs liked what they saw as well. The team selected Marshall with the ninth overall selection of the 2005 QMJHL Entry Draft, and immediately inserted the then 16-year-old into their lineup at the start of the 2005-06 season.
Marshall appeared in 60 games as a rookie, starting off in a limited role but gaining more significant minutes and responsibilities as the season wore on. Stats-wise, he finished with one goal and 11 assists. He also established himself as a physical force, picking up 112 penalty minutes along the way.
But the true measure of what he achieved during the season was the progression of his game down the stretch and into the postseason.
“He jumped right in at 16 and played significant minutes,” noted Harding, then an assistant coach for the MAINEiacs under Clem Jodoin. “By the end of the season, he was a regular part of the team and a real important player for us. Again, that was just a testament to his competitiveness and his willingness to learn.
“From the moment he came [to Lewiston], you could see he had that desire, that will to improve and become an integral part of this team. It was very impressive to see, especially out of a player so young at the time. It really set the foundation for his career here.”
|Defensive prospect Kevin Marshall took part in the Flyers' mini-camp in August as well as a portion of the main camp in September. (Getty Images) |
Looking back on the experience, Marshall notes that the lessons he learned off the ice during his rookie season were just as important as the ones he learned on it.
“It wasn’t that hard, really,” he said of adjusting to the tempo of major junior hockey. “I mean, it wasn’t easy either, but the transition was pretty smooth for me. There were a lot of veteran players, older guys, on the team at that time, and they were very helpful. The coaching staff really helped me.
“I was nervous at times, but the older guys were always there to help me out. I was a lot less confident than I am now, but now that I‘m an 18-year-old, I see other 16-year-olds coming into the league and our team who were in the same position I was in two years ago. Now, it‘s my job to help them out and make them feel comfortable.
“It‘s what leadership is all about. That‘s probably the biggest thing I learned during my rookie season, even though it might have taken a few years for me to fully understand it.” Leading the Charge
Despite his strong debut effort, Lewiston management wanted to see more out of Marshall in his sophomore season. Then-head coach Jodoin saw in the young rearguard a player with untapped ability, poised and ready to become a breakout star in the league.
“For a young 16-year-old last year, he tried a little too much,” he told Hockey‘s Future
, in an interview last spring. “Sometimes, I had to tell him to stop."
The key, Jodoin went on to explain, was Marshall’s ability to harness his aggressive nature on the ice, display more discipline and play a smarter overall game.
“You don't have to push him, you have to stop him. He's got a lot of energy, a lot of character and he comes to play. Even during practices, he fights among his teammates because he's so aggressive.
“When he puts his helmet on, you better be ready. He had a couple of fights amongst his teammates this year, so for him, it's real. He wants to win.”
And that’s exactly what he and the MAINEiacs did in 2006-07.
Marshall responded to the challenge of his coaching staff, turning in an outstanding campaign. He not only emerged as a leader on the blue line, but helped shape the reputation of the team’s blue line as one of the most feared in the circuit.
“When you play against the MAINEiacs, we will punish you physically,” he explained. “Last year and this year, we’ve wanted to make it difficult for teams to play against us. We want them to hate playing against us, and we will hit them until they feel that way.”
Marshall became an offensive contributor as well, recording 32 points (five goals, 27 assists) in 70 games, to go along with 141 penalty minutes. In most situations, he was paired with Chad Denny, a 2005 draft selection of the Atlanta Thrashers (second round, 49th overall) who is now playing with the Gwinnett Gladiators in the ECHL.
The duo logged huge minutes for the MAINEiacs, and was generally matched against the opposition’s top offensive players.
The team finished with a league-best 50-14-2-4 record in the regular season, allowing only 196 goals in 70 games. Lewiston continued its dominant play in the postseason, losing only one game in three rounds on the way to capturing its first President’s Cup.
The story was a bit different at the Memorial Cup in Vancouver, where the team fell flat and was eliminated after winning just one game. The season overall, though, was deemed a huge success.
“We made huge strides last year, as a team,” said Marshall, who also added seven assists and 38 penalty minutes in 17 postseason contests. “For sure, it was disappointing to not win the Memorial Cup, but we battled hard all year, and we were proud of what we accomplished. Winning the [President’s Cup] was an amazing experience, just a great memory for all of us.
“As a player, I felt that I made huge strides as well, that I developed into the player I can be. That is, a player that can do anything that is asked and do it well at even strength, power play, [penalty killing], fighting, or just being a leader. I felt I improved and proved that I could be that player.” Surprise Selection
Asked by Hockey’s Future
to sum up Marshall’s progression through last season and heading into his first year of eligibility for the NHL Entry Draft, Clem Jodoin did not mince his words.
“Kevin Marshall is a warrior,” he said. “Kevin Marshall is a competitor. Kevin Marshall wants to win every game. Kevin Marshall hates to lose. Kevin Marshall comes to play.”
High praise, indeed, for a player who had made big strides the previous season, and was about to take the next step toward his lifelong goal of playing in the pros.
Marshall arrived at the draft in Columbus content in the knowledge that he would be drafted, most likely somewhere in the second or third round. He was ranked as the 47th best North American skater available in the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s final report last spring.
He also put in a strong showing a few months prior at the Top Prospects game in Quebec City.
“I was ready,” he said. “Nervous, but ready. At the draft, I sat next to my friend and teammate in Lewiston, David Perron. He was drafted on the first day by the St. Louis Blues (26th overall), and was helping me get through the experience, and just enjoy myself as I waited to hear what would happen.”
When it was announced that the Flyers, who came into the draft without a second round pick, had acquired the 41stoverall selection in a trade with the Washington Capitals, Marshall turned to Perron, anxiously.
“’What do you think?’ I asked him, sort of half-joking,” he said. “David said that whoever the Flyers were trading up to get, they must really want. When that player turned out to be me, well, I was just speechless. I was so happy, and even more thrilled that the Flyers thought highly enough of me to move up and draft me there.”
The official trade saw the Flyers deal their third round pick and a second rounder in 2008 to the Caps for the chance to draft Marshall.
“Kevin is a guy that we had really highly rated on our list,” explained Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. “We thought he was possibly a guy that, prior to moving our second first round pick [to Nashville], was a guy that we had targeted at that area. The longer it went into the second round, we started to ask about the availability of some of these second round picks.
“He’s a guy that everybody on our staff liked, and we were able to do something with Washington.”
Marshall’s recollection of draft day is something of a blur. Still, regardless of where his career takes him from this point, it was an experience he’ll never forget.
“Everything happened so fast,” he explained. “I didn’t have time to really appreciate it all. I was running around all day, going interviews, having my picture taken. They give you gifts, and you talk to so many people.
“To tell you the truth, it wasn’t until later when I was back at my house that I sat down and really thought about it. That’s when I realized that my dream actually came true. It was a wonderful feeling.”
After the draft and a bit of relaxation time with his family, Marshall’s next order of business was to prepare to travel to the Philadelphia area for his first on-ice experience as an NHL prospect. He participated in the Flyers’ prospect mini camp in August, as well a portion of the main training camp in September.
“In a way, even more so than being drafted, I was excited about getting to camp with the Flyers,” he explained. “I was excited and very curious. I wanted to see how everything worked. I had a few buddies who had been to NHL camps before, so they shared their experiences with me. But I couldn’t wait to experience it for myself. I worked hard at both camps.
“It’s another big step, but I feel like I did a pretty good job up there.”
What was the most important thing he took out of the experience?
“I guess I would have to say how impressive it all was,” he said. “Just the whole thing, the feeling that this was the big-time, you know? This is the NHL, and here I am. Here I am, skating next to big guys like Derian Hatcher and superstars like [Simon] Gagne and [Danny] Briere.
“I felt like I had made it, though, by that, I don’t mean that I was taking it easy or that I would stop working hard and feel like I had accomplished more than I had. But, I did feel like I belonged and I want to make it back to Philly and play for the Flyers some day soon. Everyone was very helpful there, and it was a very good thing for my career.”
Holmgren elaborated on some of the things the 18-year-old defender must do to improve as he continues to develop.
“Kevin came to our summer rookie camp and took part in the first part of our main camp, and he’s clearly got some room to grow physically,” he said. “There are some things hockey-wise he needs to get better with too, such as his decision making has to be quicker. His puck movement needs to get better. Those are things that I think as an older player on his team at Lewiston he’s going to get an opportunity to do.
“He’s obviously a leader on his team now, and so far the reports from our guys that have seen him play are that he’s much, much better. It’s encouraging.”“Something to Prove”
Marshall spent roughly a week in training camp with the Flyers at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone
in Voorhees, New Jersey. He was reassigned to the MAINEiacs on September 18, returning to begin his third season in the QMJHL.
“I was not disappointed to leave camp with the Flyers, because I felt I made a good impression,” he said. “I did look forward to getting back to Lewiston and picking up where we left off last season. There is a lot we want to accomplish, and we feel we have a team that can get back to the Memorial Cup and, hopefully, win it.
“Personally, I still feel that I have something to prove. A lot to prove, actually. Every player not in the NHL should feel the same way. Getting drafted is great, but it’s not enough. I want to continue to improve in any way I can, and become the best player I can be.”
With many of its top players away at NHL camps, the MAINEiacs got off to a slow start this season under Ed Harding, who took over as the organization‘s head coach and GM after Clem Jodoin left to join the Rimouski Oceanic. The team has since picked up its game and looks to be regaining its championship form from last season.
Lewiston presently sits in the middle of the QMJHL pack at 9-7-0-1.
Marshall has been very impressive thus far, leading the team’s defensemen in scoring with 11 points (five goals, six assists) to go along with 31 penalty minutes and a plus-3 rating in 14 games. Most impressively, four of his goals to this point have come on the power play. Marshall has been afforded more offensive freedom this season, having been paired mostly with stay-at-home rearguard Denis Reul.
“We compliment each other well,” Marshall explained. “Denis is a big, strong defenseman. He’s more of a defensive guy. It’s different than last year with [Chad Denny], because now my role is different. Now, I am the more offensive defenseman, while my partner is more defensive.
“Denis is a great guy and we have a lot of chemistry together. He can jump into the play and move the puck, but we are getting very good at working with each other.”
Harding feels that Marshall’s role as more of an offensive contributor this season will benefit his development, even though he is not expected to be a point-producer in the pros.
“It’s all about the development of his all-around game, and his development as a leader of this team,” Harding explained. “The more things he can do to help us, the better for everyone. Kevin is getting a chance to display his skill and gain confidence in all of his abilities in the process. It’s a win-win.”
“We’re counting on Kevin to emerge as even more of a leader this year, and we have no doubt that he will. He’s an assistant captain for us this year, and he came ready for that role. I’ve had some long conversations with him since he’s come back from Philadelphia, and he’s done a terrific job since that time.”
So, just what kind of potential does Marshall have as he looks forward to his pro career? How far can he go?
“Well, that’s a tough question to answer with just about any young player,” said Harding.
“When you’re sitting in the locker room as a player, and you’re looking across the room and you see Kevin Marshall there, you can feel pretty comfortable that he’s going to have your back. He’s going to play his tail off every shift.”