The old adage states you can’t teach size. At 6-foot-4, Brandon Coe has that in spades.
But it’s the other skills — including a dedication to being the best skater he can be — that may propel the North Bay Battalion winger up the draft charts at the 2020 NHL Draft.
“I’m a strong and speedy right winger. I don’t think you can find too many guys over 6-1, 6-2 that can skate the way I do,” Coe explained, saying that he partly models his game after former Kingston Frontenac and current Arizona Coyote Lawson Crouse.
“He’s a big strong right-winger; he can skate so I take things from his game that I’d like to incorporate into mine, but I also want to be my own player.”
Coe’s correct. He’s a remarkable skater for a man his size.
Part of it, he explained, is natural talent, but much of it is maximizing that talent through hard work.
“I think [skating] has always come naturally to me, but I do work on it during the summer with Lisa Clark [of Carnivale Hockey Group],” said Coe, No. 87 in Future Considerations’ Fall ranking for the 2020 draft. “I skate twice a week with no pucks, just focusing on my edge work, and I think it’s helped me.
“This is my fourth year working with her. I started when I was going into minor midget, and I’ve stuck with her ever since. She’s helped me a lot and hopefully she can help me more into the future.”
Coe said the biggest lesson he’s learned is body position as it relates to skating.
“I think just keeping low,” he said. “Sometimes players tend to skate upright, but you generate more power when you’re in your stance lower. So I think that’s the biggest focus I’ve put into my game.”
Stan Butler, his coach, said he agrees and that Coe’s skating ability has him well positioned to compete for a spot in today’s NHL.
“He’s a great skater for a big guy and he’s got great skills,” Butler added. “With the way the game’s going — which is speed and skill — he’s definitely got those prerequisites to carry on at the next level.”
But despite his skill game, Coe knows the way he wants to play. “Being a bigger guy, I like to use my body and take defensemen out wide, rather than use the dangles and stuff,” he said. “I look at myself as a big, strong power forward that can make plays as well.”
Born on Dec. 1, 2001, Coe just celebrated his 18th birthday — as a late birthday Coe’s in his third campaign in the OHL — a situation that most draft-eligibles don’t find themselves in, and one that Coe thinks can be an advantage.
“I’d say it’s a bit of an advantage. I’ve had an extra year in the league just to adjust and get ready for my draft year. If I was in this position last year, though, I’d have been ready,” Coe said. “[Going from your] first to second year, you learn what’s going to come. When you come in as a rookie, you’re not too sure what’s coming at you, how much faster it is, or how much stronger guys are. But going into your second year, you know what’s going to happen.
“Going into your third year, I think you’re ready for any position that you’re thrown into.”
Butler, however, thinks the additional scrutiny of late-birthdays can be a negative. And with over 1,400 games coached and fourth all-time in that category in the OHL, he’s basing that on a wealth of first-hand experience.
However, there are those players who buck the trend.
“My experience is with a lot of kids is that it really hurts them. Sometimes when people watch players almost too much, they seem to pick out more of their weaknesses than their strengths,” he said. “I think sometimes it’s a challenge when you’re a late birthday, you’ve got to win guys over.
“Now saying that, [Tampa Bay Lightning’s] Victor Hedman and [Toronto Maple Leafs’] John Tavares did a pretty good job of doing that.”
As a rookie, Coe scored 10 goals and added 13 assists in 63 games. Last year, 17 goals, 20 assists in 65 games. This year, he’s scored six goals, added 12 assists in 25 games.
The Battalion are a young team and Coe said he’s embracing more of a leadership role, despite just becoming old enough to vote.
“We don’t have a lot of older guys, so I think there’s more pressure on us as a leadership group together. I just try to focus on my game and do what I can for the team,” he said. “I think people just have to remember that we’re a young team and we have 11 or 12 rookies, so they’re all new to the league and just adjusting to the speed and the strength of the older guys. Over time we’ll start to click and we’ll be a strong force as a team.
“I’m not too focused on what I have to do as a leadership guy, but instead I just try to lead by example and do the best I can.”
Coe also has a good set of friends who have ‘been there and done that’ before, upon whom he can rely for support and advice.
“I have a few guys that I work out with: [San Jose Sharks’] Barclay Goodrow and [HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL’s] Ryan Murphy who have been through the whole process,” he said. “And I’ve had the chance to hang out with [Nashville Predators’] Matt Duchene a couple times and I’ve picked his brain on what he was going through in his draft year. But I guess the big focus is to just play your game.”
His game also includes improving his defensive play. And, Coe explained, he wants to better control how he displays his emotions.
“Being a winger, my defensive game,” he said. “I’ve always tried to work on that. Also my body language and my attitude — not to get too down on myself when times are tough and just remain positive and keep playing the way I play.”
His coach sees his potential. Coe has all the tools to take the next step in his development, but he’s got to display those tools on a regular basis.
“I think he’s got a lot stronger and he’s worked on his skills,” Butler said. “The biggest thing for Brandon is not his abilities — he’s got great abilities — it’s bringing a more consistent game to the rink on a nightly basis. I think that’s something he’s been trying to work on and hopefully it’s something he’ll figure out sooner than later, because it will definitely help his draft stock.
“He’s got everything you need to be a player. He’s just got to make sure that the way he plays is the same every game. People at the next level want consistency.”