It doesn’t really matter if his boyhood favorites — the Toronto Maple Leafs — come calling on NHL draft day, New Hampshire center Daniel Winnik is just excited to think about the possibilities.
“The dream would be to play in Toronto, but I’m not really one of those guys who cares where they play,” said Winnik. “I just want to play in the NHL someday … it doesn’t matter where.”
The 19-year-old Mississauga, Ont., native is projected to be taken in the fourth round (No. 100 on the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings) after a four-goal, 10-assist rookie season for the Wildcats.
“It feels pretty good that people think highly enough of you that you could play in the NHL,” said Winnik, who is working in Ontario this summer and skating 2-3 days a week. “It’s nice to know that you’ve got those skills present, and you’ve shown them to the people that care.”
The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder showed his flair for lighting the lamp as an 18-year-old prospect on the Wexford Raiders of the Ontario Junior League, potting 20 goals and 33 assists in 47 games, good for 12th in that league in scoring.
During that season and his first taste of Hockey East, the rangy center displayed strong puck-possession skills and grit in front of the opposition’s goal — things that will make pro scouts take note.
“Probably my biggest strong point is my play down low, being strong on the puck, my defensive work and faceoffs,” said Winnik, who opted out of the draft as an 18-year-old.
The scouting report reveals each of the aforementioned strengths as well as one thing you can’t teach: Winnik’s considerable size and strength. He used his centerman skills to great effect in Hockey East last year, and plans on continuing to improve his game in Durham for the near future.
“I thought it went real well,” said Winnik of his first season as a Wildcat. “I played a lot as a freshman, especially as a center and I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.
“Right now my plan is to go back to UNH for my remaining three years, and I’ll play the rest by ear. The play is a lot faster and you’ve got to be a lot more disciplined position-wise.”
(This article originally appeared in this month’s edition of USCHO Magazine.)