Overcoming the odds

December 20, 2023

Seattle Kraken scout Mike Dawson has a plain, simple and uncomplicated message for aspiring young players who were late round draft picks to the Ontario Hockey League or who were not drafted at all. “Keep working. Every one has setbacks. It’s how you deal with adversity,” Dawson relayed while home visiting family in Sault Ste. Marie and stopping by to make a guest appearance on a recent edition of the Hockey North Show podcast.

Seattle Kraken scout Mike Dawson (left) with Randy Russon on the set of the Hockey North Show. (photo by Mary DeSimone.)

Dawson — who has been a National Hockey League scout for a dozen years, first with the Carolina Hurricanes and now with Seattle since 2020 — delivered a further message to hockey players who may be labelled as underdogs or long shots to make it to a certain level of the game.

“Whether it is to play in the OHL or eventually attract the attention of a team in the NHL, just keep on working and never give up no matter how the odds are stacked against you,” said Dawson. “Not every one develops at the same age. Some kids reach puberty later. Some players don’t get their man strength until they are older. There are a lot of examples out there.”

Easier said than done, perhaps. But Dawson said a prime example of a player overcoming the odds is 22-year old forward Tye Kartye, who has made it to the NHL with Seattle as a previously un-drafted free agent from the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL.

Kartye first made it to the OHL with the Greyhounds as an eighth round draft pick. He scored only four goals in his rookie season of 2018-2019 and then tallied 25 times in his second year with the Greyhounds. Bypassed at the NHL draft, the 5 foot 11, 200 pound Kartye subsequently received an invite to Seattle’s development camp and impressed Kraken general manager Ron Francis enough to be signed to a pro contract. Kartye returned to the Greyhounds for a final OHL season in 2021-2022 and, playoffs included, scored 52 goals. Then, after putting up 36 goals for Seattle’s minor pro affiliate in Coachella Valley in 2022-2023, Kartye is now in the NHL with Seattle and has six goals in 32 games this season.

“Right from his first day at our development camp three years ago, he impressed us with his work ethic and his attitude,” Dawson said of Kartye. “He just wouldn’t quit. He was always in the gym and he would ask for extra help on the ice. He is our poster child for hockey development … a player who was never drafted and worked his way onto our team.”

Now 50 years of age, Dawson himself is an example of defying the odds to play in the OHL and beyond. A medium size defenseman at 5 foot 11, 180 pounds, Dawson was a seventh round pick of the Kingston Frontenacs from the Soo Legion midgets at the 1990 OHL priority selections draft. Through sheer hard work and perseverance, Dawson went on to play three full seasons in the OHL. He later played five seasons of Atlantic Canada university hockey in total at both Acadia and St. Mary’s followed by two years of pro hockey in Holland and another in the minor pro, Central Hockey League before settling in Kingston with his wife and their daughter. And now, as an NHL scout, Dawson has moved up from a part time regional position with Carolina to his current role as a trusted, well respected, hard working full time crossover scout with Seattle who travels across Canada, into the United States and to various European countries on behalf of the Kraken.

Calem Mangone

As for current players in the OHL who came into the league as unheralded long shots to ever make it, there are a number of examples to cite.

Two such examples are a pair of 2004 birth year forwards from Sault Ste. Marie who didn’t get a look from their hometown Greyhounds but who have since flourished elsewhere. They are Calem Mangone of the Saginaw Spirit and Tyson Doucette of the Sarnia Sting.

Now in his third OHL season with Saginaw, the 5 foot 9, 165 pound Mangone has evolved into a point per game player for the Spirit. And for his career to date, the relentless puck hound has well over 100 points, making him the highest scoring player to ever be taken in the OHL’s supplemental draft for under 18 players who were previously bypassed at the priority selections draft.

Tyson Doucette

As for Doucette, he has gone from being a 5 foot 4, 135 pound forward who scored only two goals as a 15-year old in the Great North Under 18 Hockey League to being bypassed at the OHL priority selections draft to playing in two junior A leagues and getting cut by the Peterborough Petes before signing with Sarnia as a free agent walk on in 2022. Then, after scoring just four goals as an OHL rookie with the Sarnia last season, the now 5 foot 11, 170 pound Doucette is the leading goal scorer for the Sting this season.

Over to the Windsor Spitfires, there are several examples of players who have risen from humble beginnings to play in the OHL — two of which are high scoring forward Oliver Peer and hulking defenseman Tanner Winegard.

Currently in his third OHL season in Windsor after signing with the Spitfires as an un-drafted free agent, the 6 foot, 170 pound Peer is tied for the team goal scoring lead with 19. Now an overage (2003 birth year) skater with the Spitfires, Peer has gone from scoring six goals as an OHL rookie to potting 22 last season to being a top gunner in Windsor this season.

Tanner Winegard. (Windsor Star photo)

As for Winegard, the 2005 birth year defender was an 11th round draft pick by the Spitfires in 2021. It took him three training camps with the Spitfires and stops with three different Junior B teams before he finally arrived in Windsor this past fall. His size, at 6 foot 6, 220 pounds, has made Winegard, who is a right hand shooting defender, an intriguing prospect.

And Spitfires general manager Billy Bowler has said that where a player is drafted doesn’t always amount to much in the long run.

“Kids develop at different stages and have a different path to get to where they want to go,” said Bowler. “For us, there were some openings on defence this year and Winegard’s maturity and strength gave him the opportunity to see what he can provide at this level.”

Notably, Bowler himself is a prime example of an underdog becoming a major overachiever. A distant 13th round pick by the Spitfires at the 1991 OHL priority selections draft, Bowler — who was a small centre — went on to become the all time leading scorer in Windsor’s franchise history.

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