Blake Speers arrived in the Ontario Hockey League as a fresh-faced 16-year old rookie in 2013-2014 after being a first-round pick by the hometown Soo Greyhounds direct from the Soo Thunder minor midgets.
There were some concerns about his slight build but he started to fill out and he was able to handle the grind of the OHL and the big jump in levels from minor midget to major junior.
To be sure, Speers did not disappoint as an OHL rookie.
The smooth, skilled, slick centre came within an ace of scoring 20 goals as a rookie. Finishing strong, the 5-foot-11, 170 pound Speers put up 19 goals, 21 assists, 40 points in 62 regular-season games as a Greyhound.
On a team that posted 95 points — fourth-most in the 10-member Western Conference in 2013-2014 — Speers earned the ice time he was given by Greyhound head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Now, as a second-year skater and on a Greyhound team that National Hockey League scouts are ranking as the team to beat in the Western Conference for 2014-2015, there will be more of a spotlight on Speers.
Eligible for the 2015 NHL draft, Speers does not have size on his side.
But he has speed, smarts and skill and there is no doubt that the NHL scouts will be giving Speers the eye this season.
In fact, there is already a high-up NHL executive who is quite familiar with Speers, that being Kyle Dubas, who has graduated from being general manager of the Greyhounds to assistant GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
An advantage favouring Speers is that he will not have the pressure of being a 17-year old go-to-guy on a Greyhound team that is laden with older, talented forwards such as Sergey Tolchinsky (Carolina Hurricanes) and Jared McCann (Vancouver Canucks) who are already under NHL contract.
Thus, Speers can remain in the shadows of Tolchinsky and McCann while working on his overall game, putting up points and getting good looks from the NHL scouts, all in one.
PHOTO: Blake Speers, in action with the Soo Greyhounds. (Photo by Ali Pearson.)