By all rights, you should not be reading a hockey story about Quinton Howden
Not after he spent two months in a chest-to-toe cast. Not after he had to learn to walk all over again at age 6. Not with one leg shorter than the other.
But there's Howden, who finished the regular season leading the Western Hockey League's Moose Jaw Warriors with 65 points in 65 games. He had 28 goals, a plus-14 rating and he earned the No. 29 spot among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings. He also helped the Warriors go from a league-worst 41 points last season to 78 this season and a playoff spot.
"One of the best, if not the best skaters in the league for his size," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan
, who scouts the WHL, told NHL.com regarding the 6-foot-2, 182-pound center. "His skating is so good for his size. His threat is his speed, not only to score goals, but to cause turnovers. He's excellent on the penalty kill, always a threat out there. If he gets a step on anybody he's gone."
Sheldon and Krystal Howden, Quinton's parents, find those comments remarkable, considering how far their son has come.
"I've got pictures to prove of that little boy all in his cast and everything," Krystal Howden told NHL.com. "It was quite remarkable."
"It went all the way up my one leg, up to my chest, and then all the way down the other leg and I did the splits with a bar in the middle holding it together."
-- Howden, on his near full-body cast
When Quinton 6-years-old, he got his foot caught in the frame of his bike, and as he fell off the bike, his femur snapped like a toothpick. The leg was so badly mangled doctors told the family Quinton would be able to walk again, but to put away any hopes he would be any kind of athlete.
After surgery to repair his leg, Quinton spent about eight weeks in nearly a full body cast.
"It went all the way up my one leg, up to my chest, and then all the way down the other leg and I did the splits with a bar in the middle holding it together," Howden said.
"The cast they had on him, they re-did his cast," Sheldon Howden told NHL.com. "They'd say no, it's not straight enough, and they'd take another pole and another bar. It was quite a long one for him. You can see pictures of how he had to sleep with his hip in the air and his head down."
Quinton spent a great deal of the eight weeks in a wheelchair, as his legs were set at a 90-degree angle from his hips.
"It was pretty difficult, but it's just something you have to go through," Quinton said. "Every kid has their good days and their bad times and stuff like that. That was one of my bad times (but) I made it through."
When the cast eventually came off and Quinton went through physical therapy to strengthen his leg, it was Sheldon Howden's decision to get Quinton playing organized hockey.
"I said (to the doctor) I'd like to put him in hockey this winter," Sheldon said, "and the doctor said I don't think he'll ever skate that well, but give it a go."
"Once I learned how to walk again, was healthy, my parents threw the skates on me and I just ran with that opportunity," Quinton said.
And he really hasn't stopped.
"After his first year of tyke, I could tell," Sheldon said. "It was about halfway through that year. He already had speed. He couldn't control the puck at all but he was flying by everybody."
Eventually, Quinton rounded out his form. He had 121 goals and 76 assists in just 51 games two seasons ago in midget AA, and the Warriors made him the first pick of the 2007 WHL bantam draft. Last season, thrown into the fire with a rebuilding Moose Jaw team that finished with the fewest points in the WHL, he had 13 goals, 37 points and a minus-37 rating.
Rather than dwell on that poor season, Howden just buckled his chin strap and did everything that was asked of him.
"I think the thing with Quinton, as a younger player growing up, is he was always the best," Moose Jaw coach Dave Hunchak told NHL.com. "Whether it was coaches telling him, friends, telling him to get the puck and go score, he never had to learn the defensive side of the game. He gets to our level, realizes he's not the best player, and he's never been asked to play a two-way game. It's taken him some time to learn to play the game away from the puck. Where I give him a ton of credit is he understood he had that deficiency and worked at it."
He worked at it so well he was used as a checking-line forward for Canada at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka
Tournament over the summer. But that's just another example of Howden being told he couldn't do something and proving those people wrong -- starting with the doctors who told him he'd never be an athlete.
"That drove me even harder in life, trying to prove people wrong," Howden said. "Look at me now -- I'm just getting the opportunity now and I'm running with it."
Skating with that chip on his shoulder, though, hasn't slowed him down.
"I think the challenges he had when he was younger probably helped him with the drive he has to become a pro player," Hunchak said. "He's a guy that has tremendous skating ability. He can go from gear 2 to gear 5, and that's strength, that's natural ability, that's the drive he has to become a pro player."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org