Tuesday, Islanders prospect Casey Cizikas came one step closer to fulfilling his life-long dream of playing in the National Hockey League. The 20-year-old centerman inked his first NHL Entry-Level contract with the New York Islanders, one day before he would have been put back into the amateur draft.
“It’s exciting,” Cizikas said. “Just writing your signature on those papers, it’s something that you’ll never forget. I think everyone will remember their first contract, and my family and I are extremely happy right now. My mom started crying when she found out. It’s something that I’ve worked my whole life to achieve.”
Cizikas has had more than his share of uphill battles. Despite personal obstacles that could have ended his career before it began, Cizikas credits his family for being there every step of the way. His parents Peter and Wendy, and his younger siblings Samantha (19) and Keegan (9), supported him as he worked towards his dream.
“They’ve been there with me my whole life,” Cizikas said. “They brought me to practices, they brought me to games in minor hockey, and they supported me throughout juniors. They came to every single home game, and just to have them there has been unbelievable.”
The signing capped a memorable OHL season for Cizikas, who has been on quite a ride these past few weeks, captaining the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors to the Ontario Hockey League finals and to the Memorial Cup finals.
“Not too many people get to play in the Memorial Cup,” Cizikas said. “It’s one of the hardest tournaments to get into. It was definitely a fun experience. That last game, it didn’t go the way we wanted, but we look at ourselves and we’re the second best team in Canada right now. With the experience I had there, it definitely made me a better player.”
As a member of the Majors the last four seasons, Cizikas worked his way up through the ranks and showed that he’s capable of being a strong leader.
“I had great captains before me,” Cizikas said. “Through my eyes, I feel like I’m a captain on the ice. I’m that guy who, hopefully guys can see blocking shots, taking the body and doing anything to win. So I think my play on the ice is showing what type of captain I am.”
With Cizikas leading the way, the Majors had a remarkable season, finishing the OHL regular season first overall with a 53-13-0-2 record and 108 points. In 52 games, Cizikas finished third on the team in scoring with 64 points (29 goals, 35 assists).
What has Cizikas excited about the development of his game, maybe even more than points, is his +/- rating (+43 rating). His +43 mark this season reflects his attention to improving his defensive game.
“The player I wish to develop into is a two-way forward, someone that can play in the offensive zone as well as and even better in the defensive zone,” Cizikas said.
He continued, “Growing up I always played on a highly offensive team. We were always good growing up so we didn’t have to work on defense. Then when I came to the OHL, I needed to work on it a lot. It was definitely one thing I thought I improved in a lot this year, my defensive game.”
Cizikas’ final year in junior also featured a spot on Canada’s Silver Medal World Junior Championship team.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster,” Cizikas said. “It was a fun year this year and it was definitely one of the most exciting ones of my junior career. It was definitely a fun way, I guess hopefully, to end things off in juniors, and with my signing (Tuesday) it’s definitely been a very, very exciting year.”
Cizikas will take the next week off to rest before resuming his training. The center knows he’ll have one more giant test later this summer, when he flies to Long Island from his native Toronto, ON, to attend Islanders Training Camp.
“I hope I make the team,” Cizikas said. “That’s my number one goal going into camp, and I’m going to stick to that right now. It’s up to me on how I handle myself this summer. I have to eat right. I have to be in the gym everyday. It’s definitely going to be a big summer for me and I just have to take it day-by-day.”