Ahcan happy to play underdog ahead of draft

Scott Wheeler2017 Draft Center, Europe, Features, NCAA, Tournaments & Events

Few National Hockey League defensemen are as small as Jack Ahcan, but that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his career and the NHL Draft against the odds.

Now the 5-foot-7, 183-pound blueliner is playing a prominent role as one of Team USA’s top young prospects at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.

And the smallest player on Team USA feels he has always had to overcome adversity to really gain attention.

“Underdog is a good word,” Ahcan said. “You just have to keep working no matter how small you are. First rounders, they just keep on working.”

So too has Ahcan.

Passed up in the 2016 NHL Draft after posting 30 assists and 44 points in 56 games for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders en route to being named the United States Hockey League Defensemen of the Year and a USHL First Team All-Star, Ahcan intends to finally here his name called in 2017 in Chicago this June.

He’s trended the right way to accomplishing that.

Ahcan, now plying his trade at the college ranks with St. Cloud State Unversity, sits second in team scoring and first among defensemen with 13 points in 15 games.

He’s continued the strong play in just his second opportunity to represent Team USA internationally.

“Everything has been great, it all started back in summer camp,” said Ahcan, who helped the Americans to bronze at the World Junior A Challenge last year. “Every kid’s dream is to get drafted to the NHL and I want to turn some heads this year, especially at this tournament.

“I’ve had a good start at St. Cloud but this tournament is helping me.”

After picking up an assist on the United States’ first goal of the tournament while playing on the third pairing against Latvia alongside Joe Cecconi (Dallas Stars), Ahcan was moved up to the top pairing with Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins) against Slovakia.

Throughout, he has played in all situations with prominent minutes on both specialty teams units, leading Team USA to a 5-2 win for their second victory of the tournament.

He’s confident in his ability on the ice, particularly with the puck.

“My hockey IQ is excellent. I’m pretty smart on the ice,” Ahcan said. “I just want to make plays, keep my feet moving to making plays. I think my skating is my biggest strength.”

Bob Motzko, his coach at St. Cloud State, also serves as Team USA’s bench boss at the World Juniors.

On Wednesday, Motzko trusted Ahcan to play more than 16 minutes of ice time for the second straight game on a seven-man rotation.

In the third period, Ahcan trailed only Adam Fox in time on ice with 7:06.

“He’s a great player. When he keeps it simple, he can be dominant,” Motzko said.

The familiarity Ahcan has with Motzko has helped him adjust to the international stage.

“In these tournaments you can’t expect to be a top guy,” he said.

“You just have to know your role and roll with it.”