Midway through the 2014-15 regular season with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, Rangers prospect Keegan Iverson did some reflecting and came to the conclusion something had to change.
“The beginning of the year, I just wasn’t in the right spot at the right time,” Iverson told BlueshirtsUnited.com in a recent interview. “It really affected me. Once I got in the drought, it took me a while to get out of.”
By the the Dec. 17 Christmas break, Iverson had just four goals and eight assists and was a minus-8 in 35 games.
It was during that time back home with his family away from the game that Iverson had the chance to “clear my mind” a bit. He began “focusing off the ice and … realizing that I needed to pick it up because my point totals — not even just point totals, my game in general — wasn’t where it needed to be to help my team out.”
From there, Iverson exhibited the play that led the Rangers to select him in the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. When the season resumed December 27, Iverson picked up an assist and followed it up the next night with a goal and another assist.
Iverson’s best month came in February, when the hulking winger posted five goals in nine games, including a stretch of goals in four straight. He had a similar run in March when he scored four goals and 10 points in 10 games to close out the regular season.
Portland head coach Jamie Kompon said it starts and ends with consistency.
“It’s the consistency shift in and shift out,” said Kompon, who described Iverson’s game as a “Bull in a China Shop.” “We all understand that hockey is a game of errors, but you have to minimize your bad shifts. That’s going to be really important for Keegan. He’s a power forward. He has to play that style.”
Iverson agreed with his coach’s assessment, and feels that was partly mental.
“It really starts with the routine and staying focused before the games,” Iverson said. “Just have a good mindset going into every game and every practice.”
At times Iverson said that was missing last season, but that he “kind of had a wakeup call” at the time he turned his season around.
On the ice, Iverson is a big power forward who brings skill along with his ruggedness. He finished last season with 15 goals and 39 points in 68 games, all despite a tough opening four months. During his draft season of 2013-14, Iverson scored 22 goals and 42 points in 67 games.
“We wanted him to take a step this year from his game last year,” said Gordie Clark, Rangers Director, Player Personnel. “He’s your prototypical third-line player with size. His skating is good now, but he has to get a step in his feet.
“He can really surprise you with the shot from the wing,” Clark added. “He has to play a physical game.”
Iverson has accepted the challenge of not letting his 6-foot-1, 219-pound frame prevent him from keeping up with faster teammates.
“I’m kind of a bigger guy but I’ve been working a lot on my speed,” Iverson said. “I think I can bring that into my game. That’s what I’ve been doing all summer. My coaches have been telling me not as much upper-body [training], work on my speed, quickness and endurance.”
Iverson will have an opportunity to test his progress at the annual Traverse City prospects tournament in mid-September, facing off against the top prospects from seven other NHL clubs.
“I’m looking forward to making a statement in Traverse City,” Iverson said, adding that he’s more comfortable heading into the tournament this year with another year of junior hockey under his belt.
With a handful of Portland’s top players leaving for professional hockey, Iverson said he’s expecting to take on more of a leadership role within the club if he returns to the Winterhawks following training camp with the Rangers.
With last year behind him, Iverson is looking forward to a fresh start in 2015-16.
“I’m sure I’ll have the same energy and focus that I had at the end of last year,” Iverson said. “I’m looking forward to a fresh start. Play the game I need to play and just battle hard.”