It’s amazing what a change of scenery can accomplish.
Two months ago, 17-year-old center Riley Stotts was a member of the Swift Current Broncos. The Broncos were — and remain — one of the best teams in the Western Hockey League, a dangerous club with serious playoff aspirations.
However, Stotts’ role on the roster was limited, as he was stuck behind the team’s dynamic forward trio of Aleksi Heponiemi, Tyler Steenbergen and Glenn Gawdin, and veterans like Connor Chaulk and Kaden Elder.
November 25th, things changed in a big way.
Stotts was traded to the Calgary Hitmen in a seven-player blockbuster, with veteran Hitmen scorer Matteo Gennaro as the main piece headed back the other way to Swift Current.
Fast forward two months and it’s clear that 2017-18 is a tale of two seasons for Stotts.
The Winnipeg native has scored 24 points in 24 games in his new digs, a dramatic improvement over the three points in 22 games that he produced in Swift Current.
“It’s been great,” said Stotts, the 10th overall selection in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. “Everyone here has been awesome, all of the teammates are really great. The transition was really helped with the guys. They were all really welcoming. It’s a great city and everyone here is awesome, so I’ve been having a fun time with it.”
With a young roster and a newfound commitment to rebuilding, the Hitmen’s intention from the very beginning was to give Stotts — a skilled pivot with a nice blend of speed, puck skill and offensive instincts — a chance to spread his wings and grow into a central figure on the team.
He has been passing that test with flying colours since day one, and he shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Hitmen head coach Dallas Ferguson recognized Stotts’ offensive abilities from the get go, immediately deploying him in key offensive situations and giving him ample time on the power play.
But since then, Ferguson has grown especially impressed with how his new center has bought in to being an impact player across all 200 feet of the ice.
“First of all, when he first got here, you see the skill level,” Ferguson said. “You see the things he can do with the puck and the skating ability. He’s a pretty slick player.
“Now you’re starting to look at his game as a whole. He’s a centerman that covers a lot of ice and he’s pretty aware on the ice. He’s growing his whole game, not just with the puck and being able to create offense, but also being responsible away from the puck and developing in that area. In the faceoff circle he’s been doing pretty well, and that’s a big part of his position too.”
Ferguson is also quick to state that the young forward isn’t taking anything for granted, and is constantly putting in the work necessary to get the most out of his prime opportunity and validate the trust of his new coach.
“He’s a good kid that wants to work hard,” Ferguson said. “I like his workload. He asks questions, he likes to get better, and I think that’s a good thing for a 17-year-old in this league that’s playing as much as he does.
“He’s not just happy to be here. He wants to make an impact.”
Talk to Stotts himself, and the same notion becomes readily apparent.
Not content to simply settle into his cushy new gig, Stotts insists instead that he is focused on a bigger picture: getting the Hitmen back to being a winning hockey club.
“It’s been a bit of a change,” Stotts said. “I’m just trying to fit in wherever I can, try to play my role and help out the team as much as I can.
“There’s obviously a little bit of pressure (playing a big role on the team), but I try to use that as motivation. I try to contribute as much as I can, help out the team each game and kind of improve off of every game and each day.”