Windsor Spitfires defenseman Ryan Ellis
had such a sensational season, fans tend to forget there were other blueliners on the team.
One of them, Jesse Blacker
, had a significant impact on the team's OHL and Memorial Cup victories.
Blacker, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound blueliner, had 4 goals and 21 points in 67 games, and was an impressive plus-46. It's also a large improvement from the 17 games he played in 2007-08 as an OHL rookie, when he had 4 points and was a plus-4.
"Jesse's improvement from his rookie year to this year was huge," said Windsor coach Bob Boughner. "His skating is his biggest asset; he's able to get himself out of trouble with his feet. He is learning how to be more physical as the year goes on and his confidence is growing rapidly. He has good size right now as he stands 6-1 and still growing. He has a very good stick in his own end for a young defenseman."
"He has top NHL feet," Windsor assistant coach Bob Jones
told NHL.com. "His feet are elite at the junior level. You almost have to beat Jesse twice because he's quick enough to get you again."
It was Ellis, however, who drew the majority of the attention. While Ellis rode a rocket to the top of the draft rankings, Blacker's progression was steady but far slower.
"He stepped up when he was called upon and scouts took notice of that," Ellis told NHL.com. "He's a character guy and he's got a lot of skill and a lot of positive and upside to him.
"He became a guy they (scouts) wanted to see more and more."
"I think it was good and bad in different ways," Blacker told NHL.com. "It relieved a little bit of pressure, but on the other hand you don't get the attention, people don't see you as much. You have to trust in your own skills and how you play and hope people see that."
"At times it was hard on him," Jones said. "He does have high expectations of playing in the National Hockey League someday. Sometimes when you're figuring out the year it's nice to fly under the radar, but once you establish yourself as a player in this league, you want to be noticed, too. He wanted his own name and I think he deserved it."
The scouts certainly agreed, as Blacker is No. 47 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2009 Entry Draft. The final grade was a bump from his spot at No. 62 in the midterm rankings, which were released in January.
Blacker considers himself a stay-at-home defenseman, but would like to add some offensive punch to his game.
"I don't think I'm weak in anything, otherwise I wouldn't be here," said Blacker. "You can improve in every aspect of your game, but I want to improve on my shot, physicality -- everything."
Jones said Blacker likely won't be a Scott Stevens
-level hitter, but said he already is a good open-ice hitter who needs to put in the time to get better.
Blacker will get that chance next season at Windsor, which again should be an OHL contender.
"He has top NHL feet. His feet are elite at the junior level. You almost have to beat Jesse twice because he's quick enough to get you again." -- Bob Jones
"My goals are to go back to Windsor, have a good camp, whatever team drafts me have a good camp there and hope for the best," said Blacker. "Realistically I think I need another year to improve and get better."
Jones said he expects Blacker to play as a top-four defenseman for the Spitfires next season, and he'll see an increase in special-teams ice time.
"I could see Jesse getting secondary power-play time, and he'll be front and center on our penalty kill next year," said Jones. "He doesn't tire, his conditioning is elite, he's got all the skills to be an elite penalty killer."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.