When the rosters were first released for the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January, Brad Ross' name wasn't there.
He later was named as an injury replacement, where he joined Portland Winterhawks teammates Nino Niederreiter
, Ryan Johansen
and Troy Rutkowski
. But the early snub just enlarged the already-sizable chip on the shoulder of the 5-foot-11, 181-pound left wing.
"I was super happy for those other guys, Johansen, Nino and Troy to make it -- no bitterness or anything because they definitely deserved it," Ross told NHL.com. "When my name got called it was a good feeling. They (NHL scouts) didn't think I should be here at the start and now they invited me because there's some injuries, so this is my chance to show everybody I should have been here."
He's also used his season with the Winterhawks to show he deserves mention among the elite. Last season, his first in the league, he had just 9 goals and 26 points in 61 games. This season, playing on a line with Johansen and Niederreiter, he's fourth on the team with 23 goals and third with 57 points, and his 166 penalty minutes lead the Western Hockey League. He's No. 69 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters for the 2010 Entry Draft.
"He's responsible at both ends of the rink, very good hustle, and he blends feistiness with good hockey skills," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald, who specializes in Western Canada prospects, told NHL.com. "He has the discipline and smarts of not putting his team in penalty problems. He plays bigger than his size and shows good discipline at this early age, so he should be able to continue and have success at the next level."
"He's just a grinder," Johansen told NHL.com. "He makes room for me, makes space, and that's what I like the most, when I have time to make plays. He's a grinder-type player and he's great at finishing his chances. I'm not a big hitter. Ross likes to run around killing guys, and for a small guy he does it well."
"I like to take the body a lot of the time," Ross said. "I'll get down low and muck it up the boards and give him (Johansen) space and Nino space. ... I'm not really big for this league, it's mostly 6-foot , 6-foot-5 guys. I've just got that edge to my game that allows me to play that way."
Ross' robust game certainly draws a lot of attention -- from the scouts and referees. It's also something Portland coach Mike Johnston constantly keeps his eye on.
"I keep myself on him pretty good," Johnston told NHL.com. "He can go over the line and that's only natural when a guy has that much compete and that much intensity. I'd rather have a guy you have to pull back than have to prod, but you do have to pull him back."
Ross said his older brother, Nick, also helps keep him in line. A 2007 first-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes
currently with San Antonio in the AHL, Brad said Nick, who is three years older, constantly is giving him help with life in the WHL.
"He's been a great mentor," said Brad. "I can go to him and talk to him about anything. He has been through this. He said play my game and there's going to be every (NHL) GM here, every scout here. If one team, it catches their attention, my play, my physical play, my ability to put the puck in the net, that would be good."
Ross' mix of skill and sandpaper is reminiscent of players like Steve Ott
and Darcy Tucker
, which Johnston said is a fair comparison. But like those players -- Tucker is a five-time 20-goal scorer closing in on 1,000 NHL games, while Ott had a career-best 19 goals last season and is on pace to approach that number this season -- Johnston doesn't want Ross' offensive abilities to get overlooked.
"He's a fiery competitor, an intense, competitive guy," said Johnston. "Certainly he's shown this year he's got the skills to play at a high level with his skill, contribute at a high level for his skill. He's not just an energy guy -- he can score, make plays. He's played a much more complete game this year."
And the scouts have noticed.
"I like his tenacity and positional play," said MacDonald. "I think he is a better all-round hockey player than people give him credit for."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.