Shane Prince has held the hot stick in the 67’s lineup this year, leading the team with 11 points through the first six games.
If office pools for the Ontario Hockey League existed, Shane Prince would be the answer to taking a mid- to late-round flyer on a Derek Stepan, Tyler Ennis or Bryan Bickell in your NHL office pool.
Prince, the 17-year-old Ottawa 67’s speedster, flies a little under the radar, still a relative unknown after a non-descript 15-goal, 30-point sophomore season split between the 67’s and Kitchener Rangers last year.
Well no more. Or certainly not for very much longer.
Just like those three fast-starting NHL rookies, Prince is also showing early returns, surprisingly knocking at the door of the OHL’s Top 10 with two goals and 11 points through the first six games. Those numbers tie him for 16th overall with games in hand on everyone above him but one and he’s leading even more heralded linemates Cody Lindsay and Tyler Toffoli.
It’s also a heckuva start to a player’s NHL-draft eligible year, the draft being something Prince was thinking about when he requested a trade from the Rangers 39 games into last season.
The 67’s stepped up, sending a third-round pick to Kitchener.
“I’m just more confident,” said Prince, “It’s my third year in the league and I’m taking advantage of the opportunities.
“I definitely looked at 30 (goals) as a reasonable goal. But I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.
“I’m just very happy with the start. I have great linemates and we’re making opportunities for ourselves.”
The 67’s climbed aboard the team bus Thursday afternoon for an arduous three games in less than 48 hours with stops tonight in St. Catharines, Ont., to face the Eastern Conference-leading Niagara IceDogs, Saturday night in Erie, Pennsylvania, then Sunday afternoon in Brampton, part of five straight on the road and seven of 10 away from the Rona Centre.
They play in Kingston on Wednesday before a pair of home games next weekend against Brampton and Oshawa.
Road trips might get some players down. For Prince, growing up in that central New York hockey hotbed of Spencerport, just west of Rochester, it was a way of life from the first time he played competitive.
For six full unpredictable winters, at least twice a week, and most times three, it was three-hour round trips on Interstate 90 to practise in Syracuse and two of every three weekends it was driving around one end of Lake Ontario or the other to get to a tournament in Canada.
His dad, Dan, liked the road so much he is making sure he sees his son play at least once in every OHL arena. He knocked off the Soo and Sudbury on opening weekend, driving 13 hours straight to arrive just in time for the opener in the Soo, and then back to Sudbury a night later.
“We put a lot of miles into hockey,” joked Prince.
Last season, the 67’s didn’t have a scorer in the league’s Top 10 with Lindsay at No. 13, four points shy of a Top 10 finish.
This year, the 67’s biggest guns are off the mark somewhat slowly with Martindale at No. 40, Lindsay 50th and Toffoli, 71st.
They will have to play catchup with Prince.
“His work ethic at practice and in games is second to none,” said 67’s coach Chris Byrne. “His speed is high, high-end. He worked very hard in the offseason to get stronger and quicker.”
Unbeknownst to his coach, he also worked hard at getting a little capable of protecting himself.
Prince is not one to shy away from traffic and gets to where he has to be. He can also turn a defenceman around with his speed to the outside.
But this past summer, he just decided to mix in a little mixed martial arts training to augment his on-ice regimen. So, regularly during the offseason, he put on the gloves and helmet and went toe-to-toe with his trainer.
“I just do it for the fun of it,” said Prince. “There’s striking classes _ how to hit people. The wrestling and grappling. I didn’t have any serious fights. Just for the training.”
So Dalton Smith is safe in his role as the 67’s enforcer and the only ones who need worry are the opposing goalies.