Zayde Wisdom, a forward for Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League, received the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence, the League announced Wednesday.
Wisdom (5-foot-10, 195 pounds) is No. 54 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2020 NHL Draft, up from No. 90 in the midterm ranking in January after he scored 59 points (29 goals, 30 assists) in 62 games for Kingston this season.
The first round of the NHL draft will be Oct. 6 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 are Oct. 7 (11:30 a.m.; NHLN, SN1).
Wisdom was presented the award by Buffalo Sabres forward Wayne Simmonds at The Ford Performance Centre in Toronto on Tuesday.
"It definitely hit home when they told me I won the award," Wisdom said. "I feel I've worked my whole life, have struggled for a long time, but am grateful for every single part of my life, so getting an award like this, especially from a guy like Wayne Simmonds, who's had to go through sort of the same thing I went through growing up in Scarborough (Ontario), was something else."
The award, presented by NHL Central Scouting in honor of the late McGuire, is given to the candidate who best exemplifies commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism. NHL Central Scouting determined the E.J. McGuire Award winner in March during their final virtual meeting to determine the top players in North America.
McGuire was director of NHL Central Scouting for seven years before he died of cancer April 7, 2011. A coach at the collegiate, junior and American Hockey League levels, an assistant for three NHL teams (Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks, Ottawa Senators) during 12 seasons and a scout for two teams, McGuire was named director of Central Scouting in 2005.
Wisdom, who is Black, was a regular at Simmonds' Road Hockey Warriors charity ball hockey tournaments, organized for underprivileged children, beginning when he was 7 years old. He and his younger brother, Zaccharya, were raised mostly by their mother, Mairri McConnell, and grandmother, Kitty McConnell, in a home where money was tight and paying to put two boys through organized hockey was a challenge.
He enjoyed the ball hockey tournaments, which helped expose the game to kids whose families may not have had the financial resources for them to play.
"Seeing [Simmonds] back in the days (at the ball hockey tournaments) ... just looking up at that guy, and he's a big guy to look up at, knowing that he plays in the NHL, somewhere I want to be in a few years is just amazing," Wisdom said. "Especially him having the same skin color, having to work just as hard as me, coming from almost the same area as me growing up, is amazing for sure."
Wisdom has stayed in contact with Simmonds ever since.
Simmonds, selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round (No. 61) of the 2007 NHL Draft, blossomed into one of the top power forwards in the NHL with 499 points (251 goals, 248 assists) in 909 games through 12 seasons with the Kings, Flyers, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres.
"I just think he's got that 'It' Factor," Simmonds said of Wisdom. "He's gone through a lot as a young kid, you could tell in his demeanor. He came to my ball hockey tournaments and you could tell he had that drive. He had all the skills in the world, he just loved to play the game, he had that passion for it, and you see that now as he's going through Kingston."
NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said Wisdom is one of his personal favorites as a potential diamond in the rough in the 2020 draft class.
"Zayde Wisdom plays the game in a way that amplifies the qualities that the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence embodies and he truly merits receiving this honor," Marr said. "He makes you notice him in games because he utilizes his skills and competes every shift with an energy and passion that is infectious and generates results.
"Zayde has a strong support group to help guide him along his way and is a shining example of what you can accomplish if you set your mind and heart to it. During this season, he significantly improved his draft status and he will be a future asset to the NHL club that selects him."
Wisdom finished third in the OHL Eastern Conference coaches' poll for Most Improved Player.
"He just put himself on the map this season and you've got to give him a lot of credit," said Joey Tenute of NHL Central Scouting. "He earned everything that he got this season. He's a very determined player and person and it looks like he's on a path to prove everyone wrong and make a career for himself.
"He hounds pucks, finishes his checks and is a two-way guy who doesn't take no for an answer."
Wisdom offered words of advice for Black athletes considering the sport of hockey.
"It's all on you; you can't leave it on anyone else," he said. "If you want it, you'll get there. If you don't want it, you won't get there and it's that simple. This has to be something you want. This has to be something you grind for and you work your whole life.
"But I promise you. If you do, you will make it."
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