Matthew Finn admits he played the 2011-12 season with a giant chip on his shoulder.
It certainly worked for him, as the Guelph Storm defenseman found anger to be a wonderful motivator to having a tremendous season and earning recognition as a top 2012 NHL Draft prospect.
Finn had 10 goals and 38 assists in 61 games, and his 48 points were sixth among OHL defensemen. The 6-foot, 195-pound blueliner is No. 16 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters eligible for this year's draft, ninth among defensemen in what's considered a remarkably deep crop of blueliners.
Friendship helping Finn, Kosmachuk
For a junior-hockey player, going through his NHL draft season can be a stressful time. But for Guelph Storm teammates Matthew Finn and Scott Kosmachuk, it's just another life experience they're sharing together.
"We're best of friends," Finn told NHL.com. "It makes it a lot easier. We've grown up together. We've been together since we were 7 years old, through minor hockey, all the way up through the OHL."
Starting with the West Mall Lightning in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, the pair was together all through their minor hockey days, through to the Toronto Marlboros minor-midget team, and they were drafted into the OHL together by the Storm in 2010 -- Finn in the first round, Kosmachuk in the second.
Both had strong seasons in 2011-12 and earned praise from NHL scouts -- Finn, a 6-foot, 195-pound defenseman, was sixth among OHL defensemen with 48 points and is No. 16 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft; Kosmachuk, a 6-foot, 185-pound right wing, was second on the Storm with 30 goals and is No. 24 on Central Scouting's list.
The pair played together at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in February and will be together again at the NHL Scouting Combine, which starts May 27.
"It's been great," Kosmachuk told NHL.com. "Been a great friendship growing up with him, playing with him. Someone to go through it with, have fun, a shoulder to lean on."
Finn said having someone to go through the season with has been vitally important.
"We're pretty good sounding boards for each other," he said. "Ideas, or you see me do this, how do you like that, what should I change, how am I playing. It's good to have a real friend, not someone who's just a teammate. It helps a lot because he's honest. We're real honest with each other. We get along really well. Wouldn't have it any other way."
-- Adam Kimelman
"He's a real smart guy," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "Along the same lines, he doesn't make any mistakes. He keeps it simple. He's got enough poise and ability that he can skate the puck out of trouble, he makes real good outlet passes, simple and safe. … He's got a real good head. He's poised and calm, used in all situations.
"I've just noticed that since the start of the year he has been a very, very effective player. And a high-end defenseman. I came into the year not knowing much about him, but now I'm pretty confident he'll be a top-two defenseman in the NHL for a long time."
Finn always had the talent to earn those accolades, but the worst thing that could have happened to him might end up being the best.
Finn had geared his summer toward playing for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August, but didn't make the team.
"That's probably the first time I've been cut by a big team," Finn told NHL.com. "It was a new experience to me, but I'm glad it happened. It was a really good learning experience."
It also was a tremendous motivator.
"I was ready to prove people wrong this season," he said. "It was a big goal for me. I really wanted to make that team. I felt that I gave myself the best chance I could to make that team. When I got turned down there, it really motivated me to kind of prove them wrong."
Beyond the chip on his shoulder, Finn also credited missing the Hlinka with helping him have a strong start to the season. He began his offseason training earlier and got himself into hockey shape sooner, but didn't have to put his body through the wear and tear that comes with playing.
"Getting cut almost gave me more time to get back in the gym, put in more hours there, and on the ice, as well," Finn said. "I definitely think it helped out. The silver lining was I could train more, work hard and maybe give myself more of a physical edge going into the season."
It worked, as Finn had 13 points in his first 13 games, and didn't really slow down much. He easily surpassed his numbers from last season, his first in the OHL, when he had 3 goals and 21 points in 60 games.
"My rookie year we had tons of older players," Finn said. "We were really deep, a lot of '91 (birth-year players). I knew that going into it and I didn't expect much ice time. I didn't expect anything, really, just get what I could and learn and play as best as I can, get better by practicing with the better players. This year, with the opportunities that our team has with the graduated players, now there's a lot of young guys that are able to play like myself, (Scott) Kosmachuk, Zack Mitchell. We have the opportunity to play and do what we did throughout minor hockey -- have fun with it, play the minutes that we always had been used to playing."
It worked well for Finn and for the Storm, who finished seventh in the OHL Western Conference; along the way, Finn played in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in February, will be at the NHL Scouting Combine and could hear his name called early on the first day of the draft.
And he has the folks at Hockey Canada to thank for it.
"I don't know if I was angry at anybody," Finn said. "It was just the way it goes sometimes. I was disappointed. I don't like being told no, I'm not good enough, that kind of stuff. So I really wanted to prove people wrong."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK