Ask anyone who ever has coached or scouted Colten St. Clair
what they think about the native of Chandler, Ariz., and they'll say "he's a great kid."
And he's a heck of a hockey player, too.
In three seasons with the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League, St. Clair had 43 goals and 41 assists in 151 regular-season games, and his 84 points are the most in franchise history. He also had 5 goals and 5 assists in 28 playoff games.
The numbers alone, though, don't explain why the 5-foot-10, 190-pound forward is No. 77 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and has earned a scholarship to play at perennial NCAA power North Dakota in the fall.
"It's not about goals and assists with a kid like Colten," Fargo Force coach/director of hockey operations Jason Herter
told NHL.com, " It's about the way he brings the entire team up."
St. Clair went up five spots in Central Scouting's final ranking thanks to his greatest asset -- a good, old-fashioned work ethic.
"(Colten's) a step above everybody on the ice every single night when it comes to work ethic," Central Scouting's Jack Barzee said. "He moved up the ladder and the ranking because of his work ethic, and his skill level improving."
That relentless work ethic is the result of the exceptional character his parents instilled in him as a child.
"Ever since I was young, my parents have really stressed being a person of good character, like always looking people in the eye when you talk to them," St. Clair said. "I think that carries onto the ice. I'm just always working as hard as I can."
Hard work is something St. Clair has applied to his game ever since he accidentally discovered hockey at age 8, when his family wandered into an ice rink near his hometown. It was his sister's birthday and there happened to be an rink across the street from the restaurant where the family was celebrating, so they went over to inquire about renting the ice for her birthday party.
"I saw some dudes playing hockey and I told my dad I really wanted to try it," St. Clair said. "I was kind of starting a little late, but I guess it worked out."
It certainly worked out for St. Clair, who picked things up fast, and was invited to join a travel team in his second year of playing. He gave up soccer and baseball to dedicate himself fully to hockey. He joined the P.F. Chang's Midget AAA travel team in Phoenix, which was coached by former NHL defenseman Jim Johnson
. Under Johnson's tutelage, St. Clair mastered the fundamentals and skill progressions of the game.
"We did it every day for every year he played with me," Johnson said. "We started every practice with stride mechanics and proper posture and what I call glide platform. Until you learn to skate with glide platform, you'll never be able to skate faster than you can run … that's one of my strengths of having been around the National Hockey League and player development for many years … working on these fundamental skill progressions."
Even at age 14, St. Clair's work ethic and leadership were things that stood out to Johnson as the young forward worked hard to master the skating techniques and other fundamentals of the sport.
"No question he was a good leader," said Johnson. "I think he leads by example by the way he plays on the ice, and his work ethic is second to none. The only one who is going to get in the way of Colten is himself, and that's a good thing because he's got everything that it takes to be a National Hockey League player."
"There is just so much about the game that I didn't even realize I didn't even know. It was really cool to learn it from Jim," St. Clair said.
Even back then, St. Clair had his sights set on playing in the NHL, but the competitive hockey scene in Arizona at that time required a large financial commitment for travel costs. So when St. Clair was drafted at age 15 by Fargo, he left home to play in the USHL.
"He just played with a love of the sport and that's what really attracted us to him," said Herter. "He is vocal as a leader when he needs to be, but he is a silent leader. I think that's one of his biggest assets, that he leads with his actions."
On one occasion this season, St. Clair missed several games with an injury, but still showed up to every team function and practice, and worked relentlessly until he returned to the lineup.
"Everyone was kind of down, but I had to just let them know that everything was going to be all right," St. Clair said. "I'm not like a 'rah-rah' guy in the locker room. If something needs to be said I'll say it, but I like to lead by example."
Leadership and work ethic alone won't get St. Clair to the NHL, though, so it's a good thing he also is a highly skilled player.
"Colten is a tenacious player and a very good skater, and he possesses a very good shot that he can get off quickly," Central Scouting's David Gregory said.
Barzee says St. Clair's only weakness is his tendency to sometimes go back and help his teammates defensively to the detriment of his offense.
"He's got a heck of a shot, and if he's guilty of anything he's guilty of not using his weapon -- his shot -- enough," Barzee said. "Sometimes when he was a younger player his work ethic caught your eye; now he can execute and finish."
According to Herter, St. Clair's personal mantra is an adaptation of a famous Mother Theresa quote: "All the time with actions, sometimes with words."
"That's a Colten phrase," said Herter. "For me as a coach, I love kids like Colten. The second that the season was over, a lot of guys took a couple of weeks off; Colten is already training as hard as I've ever seen him train to get ready for next year … to me, that's Colten."
"He's got that give-it-all attitude," added Johnson. "I think he is a wonderful kid."