Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2017 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Erie of the Ontario Hockey League is stocked with highly talented offensive players, a number of whom have been drafted by NHL teams, so it could be easy for a player in his draft season to get lost.
But forward Ivan Lodnia is a driver, not just a passenger, on the top team in the OHL.
"I gained about 11 pounds this year [to 182] and I grew like an inch [to 5-foot-10] or so," Lodnia said. "Mentally this year it's been easier. You know what you're going through and what the season would be like. Last year you're nervous about just making the team and being in the game, so this year you've got to be more poised and I think I can start playing my game more."
Lodnia has excelled playing his game this season. He's fourth on the Otters with 21 goals and has 45 points in 48 games. He's No. 37 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters for the 2017 NHL Draft.
"He's got excellent skating ability, excellent quickness, he possesses high-end hockey sense," Central Scouting's Matt Ryan said. "His ability to maneuver through traffic is fantastic."
Lodnia's ability to work inside the faceoff dots and down low near the net has been impressive for a player his size.
"He doesn't allow his size to keep him to the outside," Ryan said. "By no means is he a perimeter player. He's a guy that is able to get inside with consistency and that's how he generates a ton of his opportunities. He's got an impressive skill set; very comfortable with the puck, excellent puck skills, hockey sense, the ability to make plays in traffic. He's got high-end offensive skill."
Lodnia scored and had a team-high five shots on goal at the 2016 USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Sept. 22, but he couldn't carry that strong start to his OHL season.
"When we started the year Ivan was kind of in a difficult position," Erie coach Kris Knoblauch said. "We were a good team but he wasn't a go-to guy; he was a secondary player. But I feel he's got the talent to be a go-to player. We just didn't have regular linemates that complemented him. Therefore he was bounced around, had different linemates a lot, just really couldn't find chemistry. Things just really weren't working out with the way our team dynamics were."
Knoblauch said Lodnia's situation improved in January when they traded for forwards Warren Foegele (Carolina Hurricanes) and Anthony Cirelli (Tampa Bay Lightning).
"With the trades that we made, it solidified a role for him," Knoblauch said. "Regular linemates who are skilled and can play at his level. He was good in the first half of the season. I really expect him to take off and be more of a producer in the second half."
Lodnia stayed positive by watching teammate Alex DeBrincat, a second-round pick (No. 39) by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2016 draft who leads the OHL with 44 goals and 92 points in 45 games. He said DeBrincat served as a role model not just on the ice but also with the way he handled all the pressure of being a top NHL draft prospect last season.
"I can't follow him everywhere, but if I could I would," Lodnia said. "He handled it really well. He went everywhere, he went to Buffalo [for the 2015 All-American Prospects Game], the CHL [NHL Top Prospects Game], World Juniors. It's really cool what he does. He handled it really well. I just had to learn how he did it."
He also got help from his father, Konstantin Lodnia, who played professional hockey in Ukraine before moving the family to Los Angeles, where Ivan was born.
"Every tip has been good," Lodnia said about getting advice from his father. "I can't pick one. Everyone has been good. Mostly it's if you're nervous, then nothing is going to go your way. If you live in the moment and you have fun with everything going on around you then you're going to play well."
He had fun at the 2017 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Videotron Centre in Quebec City on Jan. 30, earning an assist and finishing with a plus-3 rating. Any scouts who might have missed him while watching some of the other stars in Erie, among them DeBrincat, Dylan Strome (Arizona Coyotes) and Taylor Raddysh (Lightning) were reminded about the kind of prospect Lodnia is.
"He had a very strong performance at the CHL Top Prospects Game, which gave everybody who maybe hadn't had a chance to see him as much … an indication that he's continuing to get better and better," Ryan said.