Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2018 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
The term raw talent can be overused in the NHL scouting fraternity, but it might be the best way to accurately depict right wing Serron Noel of Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League.
That's because the only specialized training Noel has had since joining Oshawa two seasons ago has been with former figure skater and current skating coach Shelley Kettles at Bell Sensplex in Ottawa.
Noel (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) has the size and strength that NHL teams crave in a blue-chip prospect, but what might surprise some is that his skating is close to being NHL ready.
"I started the skating lessons last summer, twice a week," Noel said. "I found tremendous improvement and feel more stable on my skates compared to last year."
Noel was introduced to Kettles by his longtime minor hockey coach, former NHL defenseman Jason York. Noel considers York his most influential hockey coach.
"He coached me for six years and it was an amazing experience," Noel said. "He kind of took me in when I wasn't a great skater and kept working with me in spring tournaments and summer camps."
York first saw Noel as a 9-year-old at a minor hockey game for the Nepean Hockey Association, in Nepean, Ontario. He was compelled to seek out Dean Noel, Serron's father, after the game to offer his positive evaluation. Dean Noel had spent parts of five seasons as a running back for Ottawa and Hamilton in the Canadian Football League, but had no interest in seeing his son play football.
Hockey was the sport of choice, so York's assessment could not have been more timely.
"I told him, 'Your kid is going to be one heck of a player when he gets older,'" York said. "You hear the word raw used a lot, but the thing that really intrigues scouts about Serron is the fact the skating lessons have been the only specialized training he's had his entire life. I think (Kettles) tweaked a few things with his skating to help him get on his edges a little better.
"He has good coaching in Oshawa now, but I think whoever drafts him will be getting a player that's just at the tip of the iceberg in his development."
Noel has 47 points (26 goals, 21 assists), five power-play goals and 97 shots on goal in 59 games, all increases from last season, when he had 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists), no power-play goals and 69 shots on goal in 63 games.
He started the season helping Canada win the gold medal at the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, and played for Team Bobby Orr at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Guelph, Ontario, on Jan. 25.
"I like to use my physicality and want to be rough, separate guys from the puck and give my linemates and myself more space, but I also have some pretty soft hands and can make plays," Noel said. "I want to balance it out by playing physical but also having a little bit of skill to become a more complete player."
Karl Stewart, who evaluates OHL prospects for NHL Central Scouting, has compared Noel to Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler. Noel is No. 9 in Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters for the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center in Dallas on June 22-23.
Wheeler was No. 17 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2004 NHL Draft, and was 6-3, 185 pounds at the time.
"I think of Wheeler when I see Noel just because of his size and feet and hands in tight, and when he puts it all together you can't get the puck away from him," Stewart said. "He's a young kid and it's scary to think about the player he'll be when he's fully developed. His skating is as close to NHL ready when he wants to skate. He can drive you wide and get around you, and he's got quick acceleration to separate himself from anyone."
York, who now works as an NHL analyst for Sportsnet, had players at his camp skate with the puck as much as possible when they were young. That coaching benefitted Noel.
"Many players today are manufactured players, but I'm a big believer in small-ice games, handling the puck and having the game teach you how to play," York said. "I encouraged [Noel] to be skillful, make plays and be creative."
York can see the similarities with Noel and Wheeler.
"Blake is a little more of a straight-line player, north/south," he said. "Serron has some pretty creative east/west moves in him where he can beat you 1-on-1 with his stickhandling. Serron is a kid who might go higher than people think in this draft."