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Knight made top jump in rankings

by John McGourty
While Canada's major junior hockey leagues -- the Ontario Hockey League, the Western Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League -- are the preferred route for a teenage hockey player to get to the NHL, Canada's Junior 'A' leagues have produced many players who have had fine NHL careers.

St. Louis Blues President John Davidson, Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, Stanley Cup winners Mike Vernon, Mike Commodore, Glen Wesley, Richard Matvichuk, Lanny McDonald and Mark Messier, and the six Sutter brothers -- Brent, Brian, Darryl, Duane, Rich and Ron -- all played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

Corban Knight, the leading rookie scorer this past season in the AJHL with 34 goals and 72 points, wants to follow in their footsteps.

Knight was unranked by NHL Central Scouting in its midseason report, which came out in January, but he shot up to No. 64 in the final rankings in April, the biggest jump of any player in North America.

The spurt in rankings matches the growth spurt he's gone through in the last few years.

"I was pretty small when I was 14 years old, about 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9, a pretty small kid and I didn't weigh very much," Knight said. "I had a good year in Bantam AA. I didn't even play AAA and a lot of the WHL bantam draft players come out of AAA. It was a case of our family not being able to afford AAA and the program I was in was a very good one. Things turned out well, but, yeah, I got passed over in the WHL draft."

When no WHL team was interested in Knight for the 2007-08 season, he next tried the AJHL's Okotoks Oilers. Coach Dan MacDonald sent Knight back to midgets so he would get more ice time, and playing with the AAA Midget UFA Bisons, he led the league in scoring with 65 points.

When he returned to Okotoks for the 2008-09 season, Knight had grown to 6-1 and 180 pounds, and his game grew along with him. Besides leading all first-year players, he was fifth in the league in goals and eighth in points, and his 12 power-play goals was second among all rookies.

"I was lucky enough to play with some great hockey players and we had great support around our team," Knight said. "Our coaches gave me a chance to succeed. Okotoks is a great place to play, a great community. Everything was right; I took advantage and had a pretty good year."

He also had a consistent year, scoring at a steady pace from season's start to finish.

"Right off the bat, I got off to a good start," Knight said. "I slowed down a little, but as the season progressed, I felt like I constantly got better, and at the end I was lucky enough to be at the top of the rookie scoring race."

Even better, as far as Knight was concerned, his young team exceeded expectations.

"We had a really young team this year with 16 rookies," Knight said. "We jelled fast and got off to a great start and kept that going for most of the year. We had a couple of rough patches here and there, but overall a very good year."

Knight gives MacDonald a lot of credit for his development.

"Dan is a coach who really wants you to pay attention to the details," he said. "We worked hard in practice and he and I worked together one-on-one a lot to define the details of my game, whether it be faceoffs or skating or different plays. He was very dedicated."

NHL Scouting Combine GearOne of the highlights of Knight's season was his play at the AJHL All-Star Game, at which he had a goal and 2 assists.

"It was a blast and an honor to get selected," Knight said. "There were so many great players there and being able to go with some of my teammates was fun. I was able to play with some good players and we were able to put the puck in the net a few times."

Knight was disappointed he didn't get a chance to represent Canada in the World Junior 'A' Challenge in Camrose, Alta., but he's returning to Okotoks next season so he'll be eligible for the 2009 tournament in Summerside, PEI.

"I tried out and thought I had a good game but they had different plans and decided to go a different route," Knight said. "I've never had the honor of representing our country but hopefully that will change in the future."

Knight has committed to the University of North Dakota and thought he'd play there in 2009-10, but coach Dave Hakstol told him to play another year of juniors and come in for the 2010-11 season.

"At first I was pretty hesitant about this decision," Knight said. "I had every intention of going to North Dakota in the fall, but we talked it over with the coaches. After a couple of weeks we decided that coming back to Okotoks and continuing to mature -- mentally and physically -- would be the best decision for me as a hockey player. I'm very comfortable with that now and excited to be going back."

That gives him a chance to avenge the Oilers' second-round playoff loss against the Olds Grizzlys.

"For a big guy I think I'm a pretty good skater. There are things that I have to improve. As of now, though, it's pretty good. Stickhandling and passing are my best attributes. I'd say that's where my game excels -- being able to break down plays, anticipate and handle the puck."
-- Corban Knight

"Overall, it was a pretty disappointing playoff," said Knight. "We had a good team coming in and were expected to do well. The first series was a good series and we played very well (a three-game sweep of the Canmore Eagles). As it went on against Olds, we ran into a hot goalie who played very well. They had a lot of veterans that stepped up for them and took a lead."

Knight, though, played very well. He scored 7 goals in six games against Olds, and led all rookies with 10 goals and 12 points in the postseason.

Knight was asked for his own scouting report.

"For a big guy I think I'm a pretty good skater," he said. "There are things that I have to improve. As of now, though, it's pretty good. Stickhandling and passing are my best attributes. I'd say that's where my game excels -- being able to break down plays, anticipate and handle the puck."

Knight is an easy-going kid with a good sense of humor. He laughed when he was asked if he's such a good playmaker, how come he wound up with just 2 assists in the playoffs.

"Oh, yeah…the playoff stats, hmmm," Knight said, chuckling. "I don't know. It was just one of those things in the playoffs. I think I brought my game to a whole new level. I was lucky to be on a line with two phenomenal players, James Bannister and Chris Duszynski, we were clicking and the puck was just going in for me."

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