For the overwhelming majority of non-first-round NHL draft choices, the path to maturing and developing into a big-leaguer usually takes several years or more. Impact players under 22 are rare and special exceptions - selected at 18 years old, most kids need time to grow physically and mentally in order to handle the rigors of playing in the world’s best hockey league.
Winkler with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders
Center Scott Winkler
is a prime example of a player loaded with unrefined potential who will probably require a few more years of seasoning before he is ready to suit up for the Dallas Stars. Winkler, the club’s third-round choice (89th overall) in the 2008 Entry Draft, was one of a select few Dallas prospects who attended an informal conditioning camp last week at the team’s practice facility in Frisco’s Dr Pepper Arena.
The 19-year-old Norwegian, who speaks perfect English (his father is a Canadian who settled in Norway after playing in their pro hockey league), scored 10 goals and 36 points in 55 games last season for Cedar Rapids in the USHL, America’s top junior circuit, and will be heading to Colorado College next Fall.
“I felt I developed a lot, I felt I learned a lot,” the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Winkler said of his performance in Cedar Rapids. “Points-wise, it could have been better, though - positives and negatives, but still overall okay. I’m going to Colorado College in the fall, looking forward to it, so it should be good.”
Winkler, who first came to North America the previous year to skate for the Kansas City-based Russell Stover Midget (U-18) AAA squad, acknowledges he still has more improving to do in order to excel another rung up the ladder.
“The step up from juniors to college is just bigger, stronger, faster guys, I guess, so you got to make sure you do your stuff in the summertime,” Winkler said. “This (camp) includes it, so that’s why I’m here, to get better. Work out every day.”
Now two years after leaving his homeland, which does not have a very prolific history of producing high-end NHLers, at the age of 17 in order to pursue higher-quality competition to enhance his skills, Winkler is excited about how his decision has turned out.
“Oh yeah, of course,” said Winkler, who represented Norway at the second-tier World Junior Championships last season, collecting two goals and four points in five games, including the tying goal late in the third period of the final game that Norway ended up winning in a shootout to avoid relegation to a lower level. “There’s a lot of my friends who got kind of stuck playing in Norway professionally, which isn’t bad, but I was hoping for bigger and better things, so that’s why I was thinking Sweden or North America. I’m really happy I came over here.”
So far, Stars management is pleased with the pace of Winkler’s development and expects his progression to continue next year at the Division I college level.
“That was a good step for him (to play in the USHL in 2008-09) and now he’s moved on to college next year at CC,” noted Les Jackson, the Stars’ Director of Scouting and Player Development. “He’s got a lot of real good raw, physical attributes and I think he just needs some experience playing the game at a high level in a good league, and I think Colorado and the WCHA is a good match for him. I think he’ll get the best of both worlds - he’ll get competition, he’ll get some good coaching and the timetable for development will suit what he needs.”
Winkler is aware that the Stars keep tabs on him during the season, pointing out that he maintained contact with the organization through team scouts that occasionally showed up at the rink and offered some pointers.
“Every once in a while, I’ll know there are scouts at the games,” Winkler said. “They’ll come by the locker room after the games and we’ll have a conversation, but that’s pretty much it - stuff I have to work on, stuff they liked, stuff they didn’t like. I keep in touch with them.”
To his credit, Winkler recognizes, even without feedback from Dallas scouts and management, there are specific aspects of his game that he’d like to upgrade this coming season in order to continue advancing along the path towards the NHL.
“One thing I want to work on, that I know myself, is just my speed,” Winkler said. “Just get more intensive, more crashing to the net, a little more harder, a little more North American style - that’s what I have to work on and that’s why I came over here.”