Saskatoon Blades defenseman Stefan Elliott seems to be outgrowing one stereotype while reinforcing another. The scouting report on Elliott is he is a smart, small-ish offensive defenseman, like Brian Rafalski or Mike Green, another Blades product.
Elliott confirmed the smart part, being named the Western Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League 2009 Scholastic Player of the Year.
"I'm pretty good with numbers. It's definitely one of my strengths," said Elliott, an accountant's son. "I think it's a nice honor to be named Scholastic Player of the Year. It just shows hard work, determination and all those kinds of things. It's definitely nice to get recognized."
Elliott, though, out-grew the "small defenseman" description in his second year of junior hockey. He's now 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, which puts him on track toward average size for NHL blueliners. The Blades had a nutritionist explain good eating practices, and Elliott followed. He's also been a weight-room rat all season.
"I need to get stronger and build muscle and put on some weight," Elliott said. "I just need to get in the gym whenever I can and put on some muscle. Diet is really important, because if you're not eating the right things you won't be able to put on the weight."
Elliott had a strong season for the Blades, helping them end a two-year playoff drought by winning their first Eastern Division championship in 15 years. Elliott had 16 goals and was Saskatoon's sixth-leading scorer with 55 points. He had eight power-play goals, went plus-20 and had only 26 penalty minutes.
His strong play earned him the No. 17 spot among North American skaters on Central Scouting's final ranking of players for the 2009 Entry Draft. He's the sixth-ranked defenseman, and second only to Spokane's Jared Cowen among WHL blueliners.
"I think it's fair to say that no one expected us to come out and win the Eastern Division title this year," Elliott said. "I think everyone expected us to just sneak into the playoffs or something like that. It's nice to prove people wrong and prove to people what kind of team we have. I think the reason we were so successful is that we played a real team game and everyone bought in."
That was quite an improvement over his first season, when he had 9 goals and 40 points, but was minus-18. It was that kind of improvement the Blades were looking for when they traded Devin Setoguchi to the Prince George Cougars for Elliott and a WHL first-round draft pick at the start of the 2006-07 season; the Cougars had taken Elliott with the 12th pick of the 2006 WHL bantam draft.
Elliott is touted as having excellent hockey sense and on-ice vision, a puck controller who skates and passes extremely well. He also is lauded for his strong shot and defensive responsibility. He was groomed in North Vancouver's North Shore Winter Club for several years by coach Bill Coupland, now a Tampa Bay Lightning scout, whom Elliott credits for developing his skills and awareness.
"I met Stefan when he was 10 years old, he's the second-oldest of four children and the oldest boy," Coupland said. "He's very polite and well-spoken, quiet and reserved. Coaching him was never a challenge, his decision-making is exemplary. He figured things out at a young age. He's a sponge when you talk to him. Because he's intelligent, he understood what I was trying to convey and went out and executed. I can't say enough positive things about him and his parents, Kent and Carole. He's definitely a product of their environment."
Elliott said he and his team benefited from being coached by former Chicago Blackhawks coach Lorne Molleken, who also serves as the Blades' general manager.
"He's been great for me these two years," Elliott said. "He definitely put me in every situation and just tried to make me feel as comfortable as I can in all the situations he's put me in. He has confidence in me and I think it's really nice when your coach has confidence in you.
"Last year we had a lot of young guys, had a building year and didn't do too well. I think this year we really came together as a team. We almost had the exact same guys. I think we did a really good job coming together as a team and I think that speaks for why we had success."
"Whoever takes Stefan will be extremely pleased," Molleken said. "He's a tremendous young man that is very committed to being the best he can be, whether it's hockey, education or anything he puts his mind to. During the season he spends a lot of time in the gym with our fitness director and he has his own personal trainer in Vancouver. Everything he's doing there is hockey specific.
"Stefan wants to make sure he is the best he can be and in his first two years here he has been a young man who is very coachable and he wants to succeed. He was a huge part of our turnaround. We used him in all situations and he was on the ice in the last minute, whether we were up a goal or down a goal.
"He's a tremendous power-play player who sees the ice extremely well and can get pucks through to the net. He does a very good job of changing angles and doing what he has to do to get pucks through."
Elliott was part of Canada's fourth-place team in the World Under-18 Championship in April, totaling 2 assists and a plus-5 rating in six games.
"It was a good experience," he said "You get to play with all the best kids in the world your age, so it was nice. There's always a little bit of disappointment with us finishing in fourth place. … All in all, we learned our lesson and we'll take that into consideration the next time we play in those world events."
Elliott is hoping to play for Canada at the 2010 World Junior Championship, which will be played in Saskatoon and Regina. He didn't get an invitation to the August training camp, but is hoping the national team watches his play for the Blades in the fall.
"It would have been a nice honor to get onto the team, but that just gives me a little more drive, a little more motivation," Elliott said. "I've got to work that much harder this summer to put up a good first half of the season and maybe they can consider inviting me to the camp before Christmas."Contact John McGourty at email@example.com