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The 2022 draft giant

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At 6 feet-6 and three-quarters tall, Maveric Lamoureux can’t even claim to be the giant of his crop of National Hockey League draft contenders. This title rather goes to the unknown Jack Sparkes, an Ontario player who plays Junior A with the St. Michael’s Buzzers.

Sparkes is a monster like you have rarely seen. Measurements made at the prospect evaluation session (Combine) in Buffalo confirmed his height of 6-and-a-quarter feet. Only 18, imagine. He is almost on par with Zdeno Chara, the greatest ice skater in the NHL.

But Sparkes skates better than Chara, who has always been able to compensate for his reduced mobility with a great understanding of the game and impeccable positioning. It could also be said that Sparkes is as agile as a cat, which makes no sense considering his stature.

“There is more than one recruiter who exclaimed in front of me:“ He’s the size of Chara, but he skates better than him! ”Says the general manager and head coach of the Buzzers, Rich Ricci.

But think again: in the public sphere, there is no enthusiasm around Sparkes. You won’t find him on any list, except that of the NHL’s Central Scouting, which places him at 127th in the North American rankings.

You really have to do your homework to understand Sparkes’ appeal and potential, given his modest stats in a league below the OHL. Why NHL teams are curious.

“We played 25 regular season home games. In 15 of those games, at least 20 NHL scouts were available. I have talked to about twenty teams and I know what they say about him ”, says Ricci, convinced that his player will be drafted in July, probably around the fifth or sixth round.

Images: Hockey TV and OJHL

The project

“It brings me back to the good old days with the green giant commercials,” NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr enthused over the phone. He is the greatest player he has seen in a while. This is the classic case of the adage: Older players take longer [à se développer]. “

Sparkes is in an extremely embryonic stage of its development. There is not a bit of exaggeration in this statement. It has only been three years since this former striker was transferred to defense. He is still learning the basics of his stance and the backlash of the pandemic has slowed the process.

This season, he has just started putting points on the scoreboard. He got his eyes wide open at the start of the year with eight points from his first 15 games, including four goals.

“He really stood out during the first part of the season, explains Ricci, his coach and general manager. He has started to produce compared to other years and to look like a defender with potential.

Central ranked Sparkes 71st on the North American mid-season list. Ricci swears that at this point his player was in the conversation to be drafted in the second or third round.

“Then he injured his back during a game, quotes the hockey man. We were paralyzed for a month by the pandemic and it was afterwards that he got injured. When he got the green light to return, he hadn’t been on the ice for nearly two months. He was constantly in recovery mode in terms of physical conditioning. His second half of the season gave him more problems, but he found his peace of mind in the playoffs.

During his visions, TVASports.ca observed a player moving with an ease that betrayed his size and doing a bewildering demolition job along the ramps. But also a defender sometimes overwhelmed by events, clumsy with the puck, whose decisions were questionable.

“In fact, I would tell you that he has good hands, he knows how to handle the record well, explains Ricci. But as he was confused in the second half, I noticed that his decisions were not the best, he got rid of a lot of records. He was still recovering from his injury. He was showing up and the first 20 seconds were good, but then he went sour when his body let him down.

“I need to improve my decision making and my reading of the game,” acknowledges Jack Sparkes. I am a student of the game, I watch a lot of hockey [pour y remédier]. “

A question of development

Rich Ricci knows all the facts when it comes to Sparkes. He knows his colt was still recovering from injury in the second half of the season. He knows that he is still learning a new position and that he will need time to develop.

And precisely because of these extenuating circumstances, he believes in his player. Of course, a teacher will always have his students at heart. He must be taken into account and put into perspective any overflowing optimism.

“In my opinion, if the team that enlists him works with him and takes the time to develop him, to manage him, in five years, I have no doubt that he could play in the NHL. The rest is up to him. He has all the tools he needs, but he needs to familiarize himself with the position. He also needs to develop his IQ in hockey.

“I just started. I have a lot more to show “, assures the main interested, who says he is inspired by Colton Parayko’s style of play.

Sparkes has signed his letter of intent with Michigan State University, but his entry into the NCAA will have to wait. He will again refer to the Buzzers in Junior A next year.

“He has to raise his level and be dominant at our level,” said Rich Ricci, GM of Buzzers. He was good in the first half, but this year he wasn’t dominant. Next year, he may have the opportunity to represent Canada at the World Junior A Challenge. He must have star status. He must be in charge of the power play and play 30 minutes per game at a high level before going to the NCAA.

That said, even when it gets to the NCAA, there is a side to Sparkes’ play that we won’t be able to see yet. In the collegiate circuit, a player involved in a fight automatically receives a suspension of the game.

“He’s a really good guy off the ice, very nice. He has good manners. But there’s one thing I haven’t talked about yet: he has a bad side, Ricci says. He should go out when he’s on a professional level. There is a side to him that people will experience for the first time. he is unpleasant.

“If there were more fights in the OJHL, it would destroy the boys …”

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