|Defenseman Tyler Cuma was a busy man at the 2008 NHL Scouting Combine. Over a four-day period, Cuma met with an event-high 28 teams. So someone must like him, right?
What makes a professional athlete successful is his level of competitiveness, but it's not always the on-ice competitiveness that matters.
Hey, who doesn't want to be No. 1?
Ottawa 67s defenseman Tyler Cuma
didn't lead the Ontario Hockey League in scoring, or any other major category, and he isn't the No. 1-ranked player for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Cuma, ranked No. 19 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, did lead one category at last month's Scouting Combine, when 107 of the top draft-eligible players met in Toronto – interviews.
"I actually had 28," Cuma told NHL.com. "I didn't meet with Colorado and Dallas. It's good. It's good to let every team know a little about myself."
What they learned in the 20-minute interviews can be paired with what they learned by watching Cuma perform with the 67s. He had 28 assists and 32 points in 59 games for Ottawa – second among 67s defensemen – and he was the only Ottawa blueliner to finish with a positive plus/minus rating (plus-4). He also had two assists at the 2008 Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects game, and had four points in seven games for Team Canada at the Under-18 World Championships.
Cuma is a heady player, which he displayed by winning the 67's' Top Scholastic Player award for the first semester of the 2007-08 season.
"Tyler is a very strong skater and will be an exceptional NHL player," said Ottawa's Hall-of-Fame coach Brian Kilrea. "He is one of the most dedicated players that I have ever coached. He started training immediately after our season ended last year to get ready for this season. He is very solid at both ends of the rink, including having to defend against the opposition's top players every game."
Being the first player his coach turned to with the game's most important task worked perfectly with Cuma's personality.
"I think I've always had that 'try to be the first in everything that I do' (attitude)," Cuma said. "If it's hockey, school, anything else that I try to do. I'm very competitive; I don't like to come in second and I don't like to lose. I think I bring that to the rink; in practice, games, all the time I'm always trying to be the best I can possibly be – working on little things, whether it's skating, shooting, puck handling, anything like that. I think having good coaches and people surrounding you also giving you that extra push, definitely gives you that extra motivation. Having that mentality definitely helps you with the game."
Cuma's game certainly isn't struggling now.
"Tyler is an offensive defenseman, really adept at knowing when to pass the puck out of the zone or to put the wheels on and carry the puck out of the zone," said NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire. "He helps the Ottawa 67's' power play from the point and is really reliable. I find him to be equally adept at the defensive game as well as the offensive game, yet I find him to be more closely aligned with an offensive defenseman-type player."
Like most offensive-minded teenage defensemen, Cuma knows he needs to improve his defensive-zone play. At 6-foot-2 but just 180 pounds, he will have to bulk up and get stronger.
Cuma also could stand to tone down his desire to be No. 1 just a bit.
"My weakness is sometimes I try to do a little too much for my team," Cuma said. "My competitive nature – I try to win every game possible."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer