BUFFALO – Start by trying to locate Strathclair on the map. Then scroll through the photos that are offered to you.
An old church, a post office where telegrams are probably still sent, a cemetery with scattered tombstones. And fields, very large fields. The kind of place you leave before you even realize you’ve entered it.
This is where Conor Geekie grew up, one of the hottest prospects for the upcoming National League Draft.
It’s not uncommon to see players come out of nowhere to make their way into the big leagues. Three years ago, you were told the story of Dylan Cozens, a future Buffalo Sabers first-round pick who hoped to become the fourth Yukon native to play in the NHL (he was once more active there than his three predecessors combined). This year, Rutger McGroarty will become only the second native of Nebraska, a state known for its obsession with college football, to be drafted into the Bettman Tour.
Geekie, he can’t really say he’s come from a place where hockey is an anomaly. His childhood village is in western Manitoba, halfway between Winnipeg and Regina in the neighboring province.
But neither is Strathclair the “GTA”, the English acronym used to designate the Greater Toronto Area. The last federal census, which dates back to 2016, puts its population at 709 inhabitants. “But this is for the whole commune,” Geekie quickly corrects. For the village in particular, “it’s more like 137, I think. “
How does a young athlete emancipate himself, to become one of the world leaders in his age group, in a community that is not even populous enough to fill a section of the Centro Campana?
“When it comes to hockey, I wouldn’t say the challenges were too many,” mused Geekie, one of whose two older brothers is a potential Seattle Kraken client. I was lucky to have the keys to the track. My father was a board member and he also did maintenance whenever he could. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the nicest ice cream. There is probably some cattle as we speak! But I think it helped me improve in a way. I developed my creativity by playing with Morgan and Noah or by smashing sticks with my friends. We lived two or three blocks away. I consider myself lucky to have had this. “
Geekie nostalgically remembers his beginnings in a team of “seven girls and three boys” and immediately wanting to put Strathclair “on the map”. From her close-knit entourage, she says she learned the virtues of hard work and humility. Her unusual background of hers, she adds, forced him to quickly understand how things work in the real world.
“When you come from a small place, you have to get used to falling on better players than you as you climb the ladder. When I started playing summer hockey, there were always better players than me. It made me grow. “
Available for Canadian?
At the age of 18, having just finished his second season in the Western Junior League (WHL) with 70 points in 63 games, Geekie can still find more talented rivals than him when he focuses on the players who can participate in the NHL Draft for first time. But how many are they exactly? The answer to this question differs greatly from person to person.
According to the official body tasked by the NHL to assess his best prospects, the 6-foot-4 190-pound center player is the fifth-best draft skaters who played in North America last year. This view is reflected in the publications of some experts who see him as a player who should no longer be available beyond the top-10 next month in Montreal.
“If there’s one guy in this group who has the potential to become a powerful forward, it’s him,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. He has the size, he is competitive, he is not afraid to play in front of the net, he is good at 1 against 1 in the back. He is a fighter. All he needs right now is to add muscle. “
Others do not accept this theory at all and are ready to predict the selection of Geekie towards the end of the first round. The biggest question mark for those of her: her skating, which Marr describes as a “construction site”. Our colleague Craig Button, for example, put her name on 29And rank of his final list.
This means that there is a world where the Winnipeg Ice star would be available when the Canadiens make their second selection.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Geekie replies on this topic. You have to live with it and I try not to get annoyed. I play hockey for fun. When people put your name on lists, it’s nice to see it in the top 5, top 10. But in the end, that’s not why I play hockey. “