He may not have been born in Canada, but having spent a number of his formative years north of the 49th, Kyle Bigos
is happy to be back north of the border.
"Glad to be back in Edmonton," said Bigos following the second day of Oilers Development Camp in Sherwood Park.
"I really like it. Nice, big city. It's clean. It's just so good to get back to Canada. I was living here from age 15 to 20."
The 22-year-old Bigos has toured Western Canada since coming to Saskatchewan at age 15 to take part in the famed Notre Dame Hounds hockey program. He was hoping to make an appearance at last year's Development Camp but passport issues kept him down south.
"I miss Tim Horton's and TSN. Sportscenter down there is not the same."
As an avid fan of the game of hockey, growing up in Upland, California (about 30 miles north of Anaheim) wasn't the easiest thing for his development as a hockey player given the lack of top-level competition in the area.
"It was pretty hard when I was younger, with how much it cost. $4,000, $5,000 -- upwards of that -- to play anywhere really competitive. You have to fly to a lot of tournaments. It's money we didn't have so I took it easy for a little bit (in terms of) playing for the good teams."
In attempting to make up for the lack of competition during the hockey season, Bigos skated with the top players during the summer. In his Bantam year, however, he caught a break.
"The Junior Ducks gave me a scholarship to play at a competitive level. That's when I was 14, which was really nice."
Playing with the Junior Ducks for a year, he caught the eye of scouts for the Notre Dame Hounds program in Saskatchewan and his career really took off from there.
"At 15, the opportunity presented itself to move out to Notre Dame in Saskatchewan and play there. I was playing Midget in Notre Dame and was scouted by Vernon. I looked at their program and went to their spring camp and absolutely loved it there. My best friend, Braden Pimm, he was going there. He had more experience since he went to the camp the year before."
Bigos had two solid seasons in Vernon, putting up 17 points and 152 penalty minutes in 58 games in 2007-08 and 33 points plus 126 PIM in 58 games in 2008-09. His high level of play got him drafted by the Oilers in the fourth round in 2009 and awarded him a scholarship to Merrimack -- located 30 miles north of Boston.
"I think they've been a really big step in my development," Bigos said of Merrimack. "Two of the three coaches there are defencemen who played at a high level. I pick their brain, get knowledge from them. They really work with you on a one-on-one basis which is really nice."
Playing in the same conference as hockey powers such as Boston College and Boston University among others, Bigos has been able to hone his craft quite well.
"The league is really competitive, it's filled with a lot of fast players. I think it's been really good for me."
Bigos put up totals of 11 and eight points respectively each of the last two seasons with Merrimack. However, he did see his penalty-minute total increase to 127 in 2010-11 from 94 in 2009-10. He enters his Junior year this fall.
"Right now it's a year-by-year basis," he said of turning pro. "I'm going back for my third year, kind of itching to leave but at the same time no rushing the development process."
But for now, Bigos is just glad to be in Edmonton with a chance to meet some of his future teammates and also catch up with some old friends.
"It's always a blast. Seeing all the old guys again, catching up. It's like a real family-oriented organization here," he said. "It makes it a lot easier to come to the locker room. It's where you want to be."
Among the players he was previously familiar with attending this camp are Kellen and Connor Jones from his time in Vernon, Colten Teubert
and fellow Hockey-East member Tanner House
"It's good to know a lot of people here, makes it a lot easier."
His last name is fitting for a player who stands at 6'5".
"Yeah, he's a 'big' guy," Oilers Development Coach Mike Sillinger chuckled when asked to speak about the blueliner.
"I'm a pretty big guy. 6'5" 235 so I like to use that size and strength. I like to pride myself on not losing battles in the corners or in front of the net. I like to hit. Mainly just more of a stay-at-home defenceman. I like to get involved in the offence but I've got to pick and choose my times to use my shot."
With a couple of more months to go, Bigos knows he has a lot of work ahead of him as he aims to reach his off-season goals in an attempt for a solid Junior season in Merrimack.
"Next year going to college again, I think I've really been working more on my fitness than anything. Trying to get as strong as I can, as lean as I can. I need to get on the ice as much as I can to work on footwork, I really need to work on footwork."
So far, he's noticed a difference as his training program has really been ramped up.
"I think it's been paying off. I was at school for the summer semesters training with all the pros that live in the area. It's been really good to work on your skills, try to be the best player in the league rather than just try to improve yourself.
"I could really see the skill level there. I saw I needed to pick my game up and be more of a contributing player."
Sillinger has had his eye on Bigos for the past few seasons and agrees with what the big blueliner says regarding the elements of his game he needs to work on.
"His big thing is mobility. He's got to work on his mobility and his puck skills a bit," Sillinger began. "Watched him play a few times the last couple of years. He's a big guy, hits hard. We need to get him to put fear in the opposition.
"He's kind of a big teddy bear right now and I think he's starting to see realize how tough it is and how he's going to have to play."