The 2010-11 season turned out to be a 72-game development stretch for the WHL's Thunderbirds.
With only 27 wins this year, the sting of Seattle's 10th place standing was tempered by the improvement of the team's dynamic young stars.
Up at the top, sophomores rose to the occasion with 18-year-old Colin Jacobs leading the way following a successful rookie campaign.
"Early in the year we were putting some wins together, but we couldn't keep it going," he said. "That all comes with age and I think we're going to be a pretty good team here within the next few years.
"We haven't been to the post-season in a while but we're making the right steps to get back there. It's exciting to be here right now because of that vision."
Jacobs' rookie season saw him accumulate 13 goals and 26 points as a 17-year-old. That total was nearly doubled this past year when he scored 22 goals and 44 points, as well as improving on his concerning -33 rating from a year prior to -20.
"Early in the year I played pretty well points-wise," Jacobs said. "I had a lot of chances and was burying them regularly. Later in the year, the points weren't coming due to the fact that our team wasn't doing well. When things aren't going your way [as a team], the individual stats usually follow that trend."
Scoring metrics aside, it was a breakout season for the 6'2", 197-pound centre. Through dedicated coaching tactics and an even greater desire to learn, Jacobs was able to shore up his defensive play. Although plus-minus is largely dependent on team success, he was aware that his -33 rating from the 2009-10 season required drastic recourse.
"[My coaches] want me to play a simple game," Jacobs explained. "They want me to look at the risk-reward factor on making certain plays in the neutral zone. I need to play safe and make sure I limit my mistakes in the middle."
Doing so will come naturally to the Coppell, Texas native. His all-encompassing style encourages strong board-play, in addition to his willingness to compete both with and without the puck in all three zones.
"I have decent size, so I try use my body as much as possible," Jacobs said. "I also try to be a creative player, too. I can shoot the puck pretty well and make nice plays. I play with an edge and I like to get physical in the corners. I like to think I'm a smart, two-way player that can do whatever is asked of me.
"My shot and physical presence will, I think, make me a good NHL player someday."
Growing into this mold as a reliable, all-around player has evolved through years of practice and high-intensity programs, of course. But the unsung heroes of prospect development usually reign as lifetime mentors for many.
As Jacobs explains, his minor hockey coach provided constant support and guidance on his path to greater things as a burgeoning prospect.
"I'd have to say Carson Cable has been my greatest role model. Growing up, he was my youth hockey coach. All the way from age six to 16, he was there for me providing whatever I needed. He was an excellent mentor and I thank him for having such an impact on my career."
Cable has assembled an impressive resume based on his work with the 2011 Class, particularly with the Texas-based contingent. Stefan Noesen
, ranked 35th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, also worked with Cable and credited much of his early success to him.
In Jacobs' case, role models continue to play a critical role in his development. While NHL idols are essential for many young players, the feisty winger has looked up to one of the game's elite for work ethic and big-league success, and two others for a model of consistency and desired style.
"Sidney Crosby is my favourite NHL player," Jacobs noted. "I love the way he competes and, obviously with his success at such a young age, I have a lot of respect for him. But overall, I'd say I model my game after Rick Nash or Shane Doan. They're both big guys that play hard and play with skill. That's what I aim to be."
With two excellent WHL seasons in the mirror, Jacobs now looks forward to what could be a promising pro career. Where his dream begins is a decision likely to be made on the weekend of June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minnesota.
"I'm almost counting the days down," Jacobs laughed. "You can't really think about it too much during the season because you've got things to work on and worry about your success with the team. But now I've been able to look back on the good things I've done in my career. This is the next step."
It's a step that millions dream of, but only a few can conquer. Jacobs appears ready for the challenge.
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com