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Stone growing into top prospect for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Forward Mark Stone had a breakout season for the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings last season, racking up 37 goals and 106 points. He arrives at Senators development camp this week with his stock as an Ottawa prospect on a major upswing (Photo courtesy of Brandon Wheat Kings).

His draft position hardly suggested Mark Stone might someday be a major impact player for the Ottawa Senators.

But forget for a moment those numbers from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft that will forever be etched beside his name — sixth-round pick, 178th overall selection. Rather, gaze a little more closely at the set of stats that might soon earn Stone the label "late-round steal."

In his third season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, the 19-year-old Winnipeg native lit up the Western Hockey League, tying for third in the scoring race with 106 points, including 37 goals. Included was an 18-game scoring streak from Jan. 26 to March 9, during which he recorded 40 points — including a six-point outburst (two goals, four assists) against the Saskatoon Blades, one of the WHL's powerhouse teams in 2010-11.

Surely, it was a mighty leap from the 28 points Stone produced in 39 games during an injury-plagued draft year, which undoubtedly affected his draft position. And yes, it's a question — where did that come from? — he's had to answer repeatedly in the last several months.

Stone grins when he hears the query one more time on the opening day of Senators development camp at Scotiabank Place. And he'll tell you the road to his huge breakout season started in exactly the same spot a year ago.

"Coming into Ottawa, I got drafted and didn't expect it," he said during a break in the physical testing and medicals that kick off the camp. "I got a new-found confidence, a healthy year and a lot of learning experience here in Ottawa. (Development camp) is a wakeup call. You see guys around you from different leagues and they're all big, strong guys. You want to compete with them."

Then came a stint in Senators training camp in the fall, which hardened Stone's focus upon exactly what he needed to do to put himself on the path toward becoming an NHL player.

"Coming here in the fall was huge," he said. "To see all those players competing for professional spots ... it's something that I want to be a part of and I took that back and just had a successful year."

The Wheat Kings, meanwhile, were coming off a season in which they'd reached the Memorial Cup final as the host team. It was a younger group that his the ice last fall in Brandon and Stone quickly established himself as an offensive force along with Scott Glennie, the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Dallas Stars, who had a 91-point season himself.

"He just took charge," Pierre Dorion, the Senators' director of player personnel, said when asked about the rapid growth in Stone's production. "(Stone) and Scott Glennie were a big part of Brandon's team. I don't think they were expected to have big success after going to the Memorial Cup last year, but he just said 'I'm going to take charge and I'm going to be this team's offensive leader.'

"Every game you went to see him, he took charge offensively with the puck and every time he entered the offensive zone, good things happened. So we're very happy with his progress. With Mark, the big question will always be his skating, but I think he's taken the steps necessary to become a player and a better skater."

Added Stone: "We lost a lot of our leadership group (in Brandon) from the year before. You learn from those guys and the experience you go through in the Memorial Cup is huge. Going back there, a few of us really had to take on a leadership role and I was one of them."

At 6-2 and 182 pounds, Stone also became more adept at doing what comes naturally.

"I like to go to the net," he said. "You're going to score goals if you're standing in front of the net near the blue paint. You watch NHL games and there's always somebody standing in front, waiting to bang one in. That's something I've learned over the years and I've tried to use my big body to my advantage."

Stone has also opened the eyes of Hockey Canada, which named him to the 46-player roster headed to Edmonton in early August for its summer orientation camp for the 2012 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. The mere mention of that invite puts a huge grin on his face.

"I've never made a Hockey Canada (team), so this is going to be huge and I'm going to learn a lot, going there to compete with 45 of the top guys in Canada," said Stone. "I'm thrilled to go to that and I can't wait to get it going. It's great when it's in Canada. We have great fans ... it's a huge deal in Canada.

"Everyone watches at Christmas time and it's a big part of everyone's lives. To be a part of that would be so special for me and my family, but I've got a long way to go and I still have to prove myself more than I have (so far)."

He'll take another step down that road at Sens development camp this week.

"I've got a big frame, but I've got to work on my quickness and (the Senators) have told me that from Day 1," said Stone. "It's a fixable thing and they're giving me all the tools I need to fix it and I'm thankful for that."

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