|Defenseman Colby Robak is currently ranked 8th
among North American prospects for the 2008 Draft.
The Brandon Wheat Kings' defenseman has shot up the draft rankings and is quickly becoming one of the most prized prospects in a very deep draft year.
When the Central Scouting mid-term rankings were released last month, Robak, a 17-year-old from Gilbert Plains, Manitoba, was rated No. 8 among North American prospects for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
"When I first saw that, I was shocked," admitted Robak, who was rated 11th among Western Hockey League prospects in the November rankings. "I mean when the first rankings came out, I told myself that I wanted to work myself up to see if I could get to the top 10. I stepped up my physical game a bit, as well as my offensive game as well. To see myself ranked that high was a good accomplishment."
Robak's rise up the list didn't come as much of a surprise to the scouts that have been following his progress this season.
He is solid at every aspect of the game and has an offensive flair that sets him apart from many other defenseman prospects. Robak has a good head for the game and a heavy shot from the point that routinely gets through to the net. He is very mobile, and at 6-foot-3 and 202 pounds, Robak already has a body that could compete at the NHL level.
"I like to think of myself more as an offensive defenseman -- I like jumping up into the play and showing my offensive skills," said Robak, who has six goals and 19 assists for 25 points in 55 games as a sophomore with the Wheat Kings this season. "I also like to use my size and I wanted to step up my defensive game, as well as my offensive game. I think that has helped me out quite a bit."
Robak's path to the WHL is a familiar story.
He's a small-town Canadian farm boy that skated his way into the hockey spotlight with a mix of strength, skill and a work ethic that was instilled into him throughout his childhood. Driving along the Valley River in Manitoba and into Gilbert Plains, the population sign reads 757. There weren't a lot of other things that Robak could do with his spare time in the winter.
"We had to combine three or four towns to make one team – and that was to just make a team," Robak said. "Things were looking pretty slim to play Triple-A, but I played with the Parkland Rangers. It was then when I decided that this was something that I could do. When I turned 16, I just tried to crack the Brandon Wheat Kings lineup. I worked as hard as I could because this was what I wanted to do. So far, I've been doing good things."
Robak was a fourth-round pick of the Wheat Kings in 2005 and was the only 16-year-old to make the club the following season.
In a league that spans four provinces and two states, Robak was fortunate to be picked by the Wheat Kings, who play a little more than two hours south of his hometown.
"It's great to have family and friends to be able to catch games every now and then," Robak said. "It makes it easy to go home for the Christmas break and stuff. I don't have to catch a plane, I just have a two-hour drive and I'm home. It's been a good deal for me."
Robak is part of a deep class of defensemen playing in the Canadian Hockey League this season. Six of the top eight prospects are defensemen, and Robak enjoyed a recent opportunity to meet some of his peers last month at the Home Hardware Top Prospects Game in Edmonton.
"It was a great experience for me meeting new guys and all that stuff," said Robak, who showed how well he sees the ice when he hit Jamie Arniel of the Sarnia Sting with a beauty of a breakaway pass that resulted in a shorthanded goal in the annual showcase of the top prospects in the CHL.
"It's a big competition among all of those defensemen around the CHL," Robak said. "They are all looking to get drafted as well. I've heard that it's the year of the defenseman and it's going to be a great competition. I'm just going to have to bring everything I have. It's been a good test so far."
Robak models himself after two-way defensemen like Scott Niedermayer and Rob Blake, but he also says that he has learned a lot by watching defensemen around the WHL, including Kelowna's Luke Schenn, another top-end draft prospect.
"I enjoy watching him as well," Robak said. "No one can get any position around the net – he clears everybody out. I like watching that quite a bit."
Despite his lofty ranking, Robak still has some work to do if he wants to become the highest-drafted player ever from Gilbert Plains. Blaine Stoughton was the seventh-overall pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1973. He played eight NHL seasons with Pittsburgh, Toronto, Hartford and the New York Rangers before retiring in 1984.
Robak isn't going to worry yet about whether he can claim that honor.
"I'm just going to keep on trying to do what I've been doing," Robak admitted. "I want to improve my defensive game a bit more and just keep playing hard. Then we'll see what happens when June comes around."