Cole Martin’s hockey development has taken to various places around North America, but he’s back where it all began this week. The 18-year-old Arlington native is one of the undrafted players attending the Dallas Stars development camp in Frisco.
“It’s going really well. The level of competition is really high out there,” said Martin. “It’s really good exposure for me, being an undrafted guy. I’m loving it.”
The Stars’ camp is another stop in a journey that Martin hopes will eventually take to him to the NHL. It started with playing roller hockey in Arlington as a four-year-old, moving on to ice hockey and eventually playing in the Dallas Ice Jets system.
Martin left Arlington after the seventh grade and played hockey in Michigan for Detroit Belle Tire and for Team Illinois in the Chicago area before landing a spot with the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League as a 16-year-old. Although he was taken in the fourth round of the USHL draft, there were doubts about whether the then 5-foor-9, 150-pound defenseman could make the Lincoln team.
“I wasn’t expecting to make it and neither were my parents, nor my coach,” Martin said. “I went in, had a really good tryout and made the team. That was probably the biggest stepping stone to my development.”
Martin, a big Stars and Derian Hatcher fan as a kid, played 42 games for Lincoln in 2010-11, registering three goals and eight assists. Playing in the USHL put him on a path to possibly play college hockey, which he was strongly considering. But he had also been selected by the Kelowna Rockets in the 2009 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft, the junior team where Jamie Benn made a name for himself.
“I was looking at (college) heavily,” he said. “I just decided I wanted to play in the WHL and see how far I could go.”
So, in 2011-12, it was off to Kelowna and the experience of playing hockey in Canada.
“It’s big. It’s like nothing I’ve experienced before,” Martin said. “In the USHL, I got lucky because I was in a good spot because in Lincoln, they fill out (the arena) pretty well. Even in Kelowna, it got louder and better, and the atmosphere is all-round. Even when you are walking down the street you can kind of feel it.”
Making the jump to the WHL was a big one for Martin, who was 17 years old when the season began. He kept it simple early on, but as the season moved along there was more confidence and more ice time.
“I came into Kelowna and I didn’t know anybody,” Martin said. “I started out, kept my head low and listened to what the coaches said. The coaches were a big part of me making my gradual slope upwards. Hopefully I continue that slant up.”
Stars amateur scout Dennis Holland, whose territory includes the WHL, says there is a lot to like about the young defenseman, who is now listed at 5-11, 165 pounds.
“He skates really well and he’s very competitive. He gives away a little bit of size, but he plays much bigger than he is listed,” said Holland. “He struggled to find ice time early, but he was a young man that I thought got better and improved and worked himself into a top four position for that hockey team. It’s a big jump for guys from a non-traditional market to compete. I know the coaching staff was more than excited about where he was able to get by the end of the season. They’re expecting great things out of him. You never know where he is going to get. He’s competitive enough and determined enough to work himself into an opportunity to somewhere.”
Martin was ranked 146th in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings for the 2012 NHL Draft, but wasn’t listed in the final rankings. There was a thought he might still get drafted, but no luck. But there’s always the 2013 draft.
“You always hope someone sees you here or there,” Martin said. “For me, I can’t worry about not getting picked. This year I’ve got a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I am going to go out there and show some scouts, general managers and coaches why maybe I should be drafted.”
And if Martin does end up getting drafted, he’d join a small, but growing list of local players such as Austin Smith (Dallas), Stefan Noesen (Ottawa) and Colin Jacobs (Buffalo) who have caught the eye of NHL teams in recent years.
“Texas hockey has taken huge strides. I have two younger brothers who are playing and I am trying to give them as much advice as I can,” said Martin. “Texas hockey is progressing. You could be looking at it a few years from now and it’s not just two or three, but quite a few getting drafted.”