If there's an NHL player to which you could compare Kingston Frontenacs center Ethan Werek
, it might be Doug Gilmour
Both were regarded as gritty, under-sized centers who were fierce and difficult to play against.
If Werek wants to continue in Gilmour's footsteps he has just the right coach to help him.
"Playing for Doug Gilmour
was a lot of fun this year," Werek said of his first-year coach. "He was one of the greatest players to ever play the game and I learned a lot of different things from him. I learned that you have to bring a good work ethic and that's what I try to bring to my game. He showed me that you can't take any time off -- you have to move your feet every second that you are out on the ice. He also taught me how to read the play away from the puck."
In his first season with the Ontario Hockey League team, Werek, a 6-foot, 190-pound center, was second on the team with 64 points and 83 penalty minutes.
While those numbers attracted NHL scouts, Werek feels Gilmour -- who scored 1,414 points in 1,474 NHL games with seven teams during 20 seasons -- taught him how to play his best hockey without the puck.
Scouts certainly were paying attention. Werek was one of the 40 prospects invited to the elite NHL-CHL Top Prospects Game, and when NHL Central Scouting released its final rankings for the 2009 Entry Draft, Werek was the No. 32-rated North American skater -- an improvement from the midterm rankings, when he was No. 43.
"Ethan battled hard and he's not afraid to pay a price to make a play," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "That's the kind of player he is. I don't think he's a guy that would make the opposition mad, but he's still a tough guy to play against and still has a physical element to his game. He's involved and aggressive on the forecheck, he'll finish his checks and knock guys off the puck, but he isn't a cheap player."
"I'm a hard-working forward, and every time that I'm on the ice I try to give it my all," Werek said. "I'm defensively responsible, but I can chip in offensively as well. Sometimes I mix it up a little bit when the situation calls for it."
Gilmour isn't Werek's only link to the NHL. Werek works out in the offseason with a pair of players selected in the 2008 Entry Draft -- defenseman Brandon Burlon
, a second-round pick of the New Jersey Devils
, and Corey Trivino
, a second-round pick of the New York Islanders
. Trivino and Werek played together in 2007-08 with the Stouffville Spirit of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League.
"I work out with Burlon during the summer and he's amazing because he's a great athlete and a great hockey player," Werek said. "We drive together to work out in Milton, Ont., with our trainer, who also coached me in minor-midget."
While Trivino got to celebrate a national title at Boston University this season, Werek's club didn't have as much success in the OHL, finishing last in the Eastern Conference with 46 points. Some players might hang their heads at such a fate, but Werek looks on the bright side -- he had more playing time than an elite player on a better team might get.
"I definitely got put in all different situations this season," Werek said. "Even though our team didn't do too well, we competed hard every game and I think we had somewhere around 23 one-goal losses, so we were competitive. We competed every game and no game was a write-off."
"Playing for Doug Gilmour was a lot of fun this year. He was one of the greatest players to ever play the game and I learned a lot of different things from him. I learned that you have to bring a good work ethic and that's what I try to bring to my game."
-- Ethan Werek
Edwards figures Werek played more in Kingston than he would have had he been with a strong OHL program like the Windsor Spitfires or London Knights.
"It's always hard to say whether or not a skill player who is playing on a bad team is getting the ice time because he's on a bad team," Edwards said. "If he was on a team like London or Windsor, which is stacked, he might not have played the power play or the penalty kill. But with his puck skills, he probably would've played in the top two lines on any team in the league. This season he was thrown out there just about every second shift and sometimes he would even play the whole two minutes of the power play."
The opportunities might be different next season. His high draft ranking could mean an early selection and a long look in an NHL training camp. Werek said he's talked to his peers about the draft and is excited about his upcoming selection despite an inevitable nervous feeling.
"I talked to Brandon and Corey about getting drafted this summer and they had a lot of fun when they got drafted," Werek said. "It should be a little nerve-wracking, but it should still be a fun day for me. You don't know where you are going to go or when, but you have to have a good season and a good (Scouting) Combine. Whatever team drafts you, you want to have a good impact on that organization.
"I'm thinking a little more about the draft now that my season is over. It's hard to get away from hockey living here in the Toronto area because whenever you turn on TV you see something about hockey and the draft. The draft is always around in the media, but wherever I get drafted, I'll be honored."
Contact Adam Schwartz at email@example.com