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NHL Draft

For Griffin Luce, mentorship never far away

Draft prospect's grandfather starred with Sabres, father works for Panthers

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Every Thursday, will look ahead to the 2016 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

It wasn't long after Griffin Luce decided to switch from forward to defense that his grandfather and retired NHL player Don Luce began advising him on the steps to becoming a professional hockey player.

Griffin was 10 years old at the time, but never once did he feel overwhelmed or out of place. The fact he had grandpa and his father, Scott Luce, who serves as director of player personnel for the Florida Panthers, as mentors made the transition to defense less strenuous

He was always presented the chance to talk about the game and the minute details with those closest to him.

"Grandpa played forward, so when I switched to defense I think he just decided to give me tips on what I needed to do to reach the next level," Luce said. "Grandpa had a big role in my development as a hockey player."

The younger Luce said he fell in love with the position after listening to a friend describe how much he enjoyed playing defense. 

"My coach eventually put me back on defense and that was it," he said.

Don Luce played 10 seasons for Buffalo Sabres, from 1971-81, and is a member of their Hall of Fame. 

"My grandfather played many years in Buffalo and I visited the area a lot as a young kid," Griffin Luce said.

Griffin had the chance to play in the presence of his family, including Don, at the CCM/All-American Prospects Game at First Niagara Center in Buffalo on Sept. 24. This season, the 6-foot-3, 217-pound left-handed shooter plays for USA Hockey's Under-18 National Team Development Program and has two goals, nine points and 72 penalty minutes. 

"When Griffin was younger, he was a bull-in-a-china-shop power forward," Scott Luce said of his son. "His grandfather and I would have him focus on letting the game come to him. When Griffin switched to defense, this really helped his ability to identify and execute plays properly. We thought it was important for him to gain an appreciation of just how fast the game is played at the highest level and how proper positioning and gaps can greatly benefit a young defenseman."

In 37 games with the U-17 USNTDP in 2014-15, Luce had two assists and 51 penalty minutes.

Prior to serving as director of player personnel, Scott was director of amateur scouting for the Panthers, so never was there a time when Griffin didn't receive solid examples of how to play and succeed in the game.

"I've probably seen the most NHL games in Buffalo growing up," Griffin said. "Dad sometimes sends me texts when I'm out watching a game on what to look for in certain players. He would give me pointers so that I'd be able to model and shape my game after them as I got older.

Luce played 26 games for Salisbury Prep in Connecticut, scoring five goals and nine points to help lead the team to the 2014 New England Prep championship. He's committed to the University of Michigan in 2016-17, and his Canadian Hockey League rights are held by the Kitchener Rangers, who selected him in the fifth round (No. 82) of the 2014 Ontario Hockey League draft.

"(Michigan coach) Red Berenson is obviously a great coach and has had many years in the business," Luce said. "Michigan was a fit for me from the start. I felt comfortable there and it was someplace I fell in love with right away.

"Hockey will end at some point in your life and you always want something to fall back on after that and you can't get anything better than a Michigan college degree."

Luce is No. 54 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft to be held at First Niagara Center on June 24-25. He's a projected second- or third-round draft pick.

"Griffin's ability and skill set changed once he started attending power skating and skill instruction on a daily basis around the seventh grade," Scott Luce said. "He has always been self-motivated and a driven athlete. His focus on off-ice conditioning and nutrition has really helped his game recently. His level of dedication is quite high, but what is most important to us as a family is how he's able to balance academics, hockey and being a teenager."

Luce calls himself a defenseman with two-way capability.

"I can go join the rush because I have offensive capabilities, but I like to take care of my defense zone first," Luce said. "I like to take care of the D-zone first, block shots, be physical. I like to model my game after (Los Angeles Kings defenseman) Jake Muzzin."  

Luce was born in Osceolo, Wisconsin, but grew up in St. Thomas, Ontario. When he attended Salisbury Prep, he stayed with his grandparents in Williamsville, N.Y.

Does he believe scouting might be his passion after a playing career?

"That's more for my brother; he wants to get into scouting," Griffin said. "I want to play for as long as I can."

His response to scouting wasn't surprising to his father, Scott.

"Throughout his childhood, Griffin was hard-wired to play hockey or any sport with a win-at-any-cost mentality," he said. "As he has evolved into a young man, he's gained an appreciation for what the sport of hockey could offer him once his playing days are over. He's focused on playing hockey and obtaining a university degree. If he chooses to stay in the game of hockey, it will be because of his love for the game. 

"Scouting for him is probably a far-off thought that probably has not crossed his mind at this point in his life."

One thing is certain, NHL scouts like what they see in Griffin as a top player on the draft board this season.

"Griffin is a big boy who moves well for size; he has good physical element to his game," NHL Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen said. "He offers simple puck play with a good first pass. He has good net front presence." 

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