The term “late bloomer” is usually applied to someone whose skills have developed at a rate slower than that of his peers. With Zac Dalpe
, it takes on a more literal sense.
Skill was never a question for the talented young forward, whose 5-foot-8, 120 pound frame as a 16-year-old held him back from being widely considered as a legitimate NHL prospect. Two years, five inches and 60 pounds later, the Carolina Hurricanes nabbed him with the 45th overall pick in the 2008 draft – a spot they considered too low for a player NHL Central Scouting pegged as the 16th-ranked North American skater.
“We were extremely excited last year as a group to get him in the second round, because he’s a guy that we had higher on our list,” said Jason Karmanos, the team’s Vice President and Assistant General Manager.
Dalpe is now nearing the end of an outstanding freshman season at Ohio State, where he’s posted 13 goals and 12 assists in 33 games, good for fourth among CCHA rookies in scoring. He was recently selected to the CCHA All-Rookie team and has been named the conference’s Rookie of the Week on three separate occasions.
The Hurricanes were initially concerned about Dalpe heading through the college route as opposed to playing in a major junior league such as the OHL – not because of any difference in the level of play, but rather because it can be difficult to break into the college ranks as an 18-year-old.
“The worry sometimes is that it’s hard to jump in as a true freshman,” said Karmanos, who played college hockey himself at Harvard University. “A lot of guys don’t come in until they’re 20 or 21 these days. You want a second-round pick to be playing and playing a lot, and sometimes at the collegiate level true freshman don’t play as much, just as the natural order of things.”
Dalpe’s production against such odds has put those fears to rest.
“He’s playing very well at the college level against older players, and he’s contributed to the success of Ohio State’s season to date,” said Hurricanes Director of Amateur Scouting Tony MacDonald. “I’ve even had colleagues from other teams mention Zac to me and how well he’s been playing.”
The Buckeyes are much improved this season, posting an overall record of 22-12-4 following a 12-25-4 showing in 2007-08. Dalpe, who can play at any forward position, has been a big part of that turnaround, as the team has been counting on him in a variety of important situations that one might not expect from a player his age.
Hurricanes Director of Defensemen Development Glen Wesley, who has quietly begun working with forwards ever since Ron Francis assumed a coaching role, recently traveled to see Dalpe in person.
“He’s playing against guys that are older and he’s being put in penalty killing situations, playing the power play on a regular shift, sometimes on the point, and he takes crucial faceoffs at key points in the game,” said Wesley. “That says a lot for him as a freshman that they rely on him in those key points in the game.”
Not only is Dalpe appearing in those important situations, he’s delivering. Three of his goals this year are game-winners, adding to his budding reputation as a clutch player at both ends of the ice.
“He’s scoring big goals and making big plays for a team that’s been winning some big games,” said Karmanos. “Those are all things that you want to see.”
Although Dalpe has more than held his own against older players in college, the Hurricanes still want to see him fill out his frame, as they do with most any young prospect.
That being said, he got off to a good start this past July at the team’s annual rookie conditioning camp, in which recent draftees get a rough introduction to NHL-level workouts from the Hurricanes’ training staff. Dalpe paid his own way to the camp, as NCAA rules prevent him from allowing the Hurricanes to do so on his behalf.
“He came into our fitness camp last summer and impressed everyone there with his commitment, his hard work and his ability on the ice,” said MacDonald. “That’s something that we like to see, because it’s a good indicator that the player is working to get better and isn’t satisfied to remain where he is as a prospect.”
Where he peaks physically will have something to do with what type of player Dalpe might be at the NHL level someday, as some in the organization see the potential for a power forward role in his future. More likely, however, he will make his living as a skilled, versatile player who will help both offensively and defensively.
“Zac distributes the puck very well, shoots the puck very well and has demonstrated that he can finish at every level he can play at.,” said MacDonald. “He’s got quick hands, quick feet and a great release. He should be one of those two-way players that will be able to contribute at both ends of the ice.”