Adam Mascherin is generating professional praise in the junior ranks.
It isn't just that Mascherin is scoring goals in bunches; it's also how he's scoring them. In the fall, Mascherin managed to garner headlines when a highlight-reel, coast-to-coast goal in overtime quickly transformed the Florida Panthers prospect into something of an overnight sensation on social media.
With time winding down in the extra frame, Mascherin skated up the left side of the ice -- undressing multiple defensemen in the process - before scoring on a nifty backhand shot from just in front of the crease to give Kitchener a 6-5 win over the Saginaw Spirit on Oct. 30.
"It was kind of all over social media," Mascherin told FloridaPanthers.com of the play. "A handful of different accounts tweeted it and it got thousands of retweets. I got a lot of text messages and congratulations from people that night telling me to keep up the good work. It was pretty cool.
"Not to sound cocky, but I do enjoy the spotlight. When you do something cool like that, you feel like you're accomplishing stuff and that people are taking notice that I'm a skilled player. I'd definitely like to do something like that again soon."
It's the ability to make plays like that GIF-worthy goal that led the Panthers to select Mascherin with the 38th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft - a pick the team had acquired earlier that day in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.
"I want to prove Florida right for drafting me," Mascherin said. "I definitely think they did make the right decision for picking me. I've obviously been showing that so far this year while doing big things in the OHL, so I just want to keep that up."
At this point, "big things" would be an understatement.
Mascherin has been simply lighting up the Ontario Hockey League in his third season after putting up 81 points (35-46-81) in 65 games as a sophomore. The 18-year-old forward currently ranks second in scoring with 67 points (27-40-67) in 38 games, trailing fellow 2016 second-round pick Alex DeBrincat - a Chicago Blackhawks prospect -- by just two points for the league lead.
"The big thing for me is my shot," Mascherin said of his offensive output. "I've got an elite-level shot. This season, I've been shooting the puck as much as I can from high-percentage areas and it's been going in for me. I think that's a big part of my success so far.
"I've also tweaked [my shot] a little bit. I'm trying to shoot more in stride. When you play in the NHL or the AHL or any next-level, the game's faster, so you obviously have to be able to shoot with less time with the puck."
A goal-scoring dynamo from an early age, Mascherin, who honed his now-lethal shot at the expense of his family's garage door, said the biggest adjustment he's made to his game this season has been learning to work without the puck. The result? The Maple, Ontario native has become an even bigger force on special teams, leading the OHL in both goals (11) and points (21) on the power play.
"I've been adding a one-timer to my game, which I haven't had in past years," Mascherin said. "Guys pass real hard at the next level. You've got to be able to shoot from just about anywhere. Catching and releasing and having a one-timer is really important if you want to take that next step."
For the majority of the season, Jeremy Bracco, a second-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015, had been the one setting up Mascherin for his new and improved one-timers. That was, however, until Kitchener traded the 19-year-old winger to the Windsor Spitfires on Monday.
"Jeremy Bracco is probably one of the top playmakers in the league," Mascherin said. "I think it's really helped to play with a player like at the junior level and it's definitely helped me elevate my game."
Still, Mascherin isn't too worried about being able to produce without his friend and former roommate, especially after recording 18 points (5-13-18) in the nine games after Bracco left the Rangers lineup to join Team USA at the 2016 World Junior Championships.
"I'm just working on rounding out my game," Mascherin said of his focus. "In the offensive zone, there's obviously parts you can teach, but there are also things you can't teach. I think I have some of that natural ability to create offense, for sure. Right now, it's more about rounding out my 200-foot game and making sure that I'm ready for the pros."
As he continues to turn heads in juniors, Mascherin, who, like Bracco, stands 5-foot-10, still has to shrug off the occasional comment about his small stature, but isn't too worried about size being an issue on his journey to the next level. For as numerous sub-six-foot superstars continue to come up big around the NHL, Mascherin is confident that his statistics will prove to be the only metrics that matter.
"I hear that come up a little bit, but it's fading out in today's game," Mascherin said of his size. "The game is all about speed and skill and hockey IQ. If you make good plays out there and you can put the puck in the net, I don't think people care how big or how small you are.
"If you get the job done, you get the job done. That's a big part for me. I've just been working on my game. I just try to block out the size part and work on my game."
In the end, Mascherin hopes, all of that hard work will lead to a spot with the Panthers.
"I'm hungry," he said.
"I want to be a pro and I want to prove to everybody that I belong in the pros."
Photos provided by Kitchener Rangers/Dan Hamilton