Ty Dellandrea never wavered in his decision to play for Flint of the Ontario Hockey League.
Dellandrea felt he owed it to the team for taking a chance on him with the No. 5 pick of the 2016 OHL draft, regardless of issues in the organization or the water crisis in the city of Flint, Michigan.
"If they have the trust in me to pick me and want me to be their player with that pick, I think I knew I had to be loyal to them," said Dellandrea, who turns 18 on July 21. "I think there were other players who did say no in the past, who didn't want to be there. I had trust that if they were putting their trust in me that I was going to be there for them and do everything I can to help change the organization."
Dellandrea is doing his part to improve the Flint team. The 6-foot, 184-pound forward led Flint with 27 goals and was second with 59 points in 2017-18. He's No. 25 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters heading into the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Round 1 is Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 are Saturday (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS).
When Dellandrea arrived in Flint, the organization was coming off a debacle that saw coach John Gruden get fired Nov. 8, 2015, reportedly because owner Rolf Nilsen was unhappy about his son's ice time, then rehired a day later, then fired again Feb. 17, 2016.
Dellandrea was drafted in April, and Ryan Oulahen, 31 at the time, was hired as coach a month later.
Overshadowing that was the Flint water crisis. A federal state of emergency was declared in January 2016 when it was revealed that residents had been exposed to lead contamination in the city's water supply.
Dellandrea said he discussed the entire situation with his parents.
"It was a family decision," he said. "To be able to talk it out with them, they had more [questions] than me. Me, I'm going to play in the OHL. They helped me through the questions."
Dellandrea and his teammates billet one town away in Grand Blanc, Michigan, but are active in the Flint community.
"I think [Flint] gets a bad rap," Dellandrea said. "It's not fair that all you see is a lot of the negatives. We're there and we see the negatives but the positivity in the town and in the city and around the team is quite brilliant. I think the news and the outside world sees a lot of the negative and I wish they saw more of how great it's doing."
Dellandrea, who this season more than doubled his 2016-17 totals of 13 goals and 24 points, is getting more NHL scouts to town.
"He's the type of player that impressed us more as the year went on," Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory said.
Dellandrea succeeded despite a season in which Flint finished 19th in the 20-team OHL.
"We decided in Flint to go with a very young team, and probably by mid-November decided to make some changes and look to the future and try to build a championship team," Oulahen said. "It was a really big decision, and part of that was because we had guys like Ty who were younger players. But we decided we needed to pass the torch to them and become their team. I would say once that happened and we started approaching early December, Ty's game really took off. He became a different player. He became a more physical force, somebody that started to develop time and space for himself and really just became dynamic, did a lot of pretty neat stuff on a night-to-night basis."
A key moment in Dellandrea's season was scoring two goals for Team Cherry at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Guelph, Ontario, on Jan. 25.
"I think it meant a ton," Dellandrea said. "Set me up for a great second half. Coming out of a team that had been struggling, to play with such great players, I think it gave me a boost of confidence going into the second half and I was able to roll with that for a while, contribute more with my own team. Felt better all around."
Dellandrea said he's excited for the draft, but his focus already has turned to getting better for next season.
"I want to work on my strength," he said. "If I want to play at the next level as soon as possible I need to get stronger. My first step, my first stride, getting out of the gate fast. Once I get up to speed I'm quick but getting there (needs work)."
Oulahen said he believes Dellandrea will do what it takes to develop into everything an NHL team looks for in a No. 1 center.
"He's going to be a key guy for us on, off the ice, in all situations," Oulahen said. "… There's not a lot he hasn't been through already as a young player. We do feel like Ty is the leader of our group here and he's again got to lead the way for us."