As a student, the 2011-12 Dubuque Fighting Saints wasn’t a bad club to be on if you were a member of the 2013 NHL Draft class.
Consider current Dubuque defenseman Michael Downing well schooled.
Watching how highly ranked prospects Zemgus Girgensons and Michael Matheson handled the pressures of the 2012 NHL Draft, one could take the lesson and aptly prepare for the ups and downs of their own draft season.
“Having Zemgus and Mikey helped me a lot,” said Downing. “Watching how they handled everything and just how hard both of the guys worked. I could go on and on about these two. They knew everything they were doing and they did it perfectly.”
Girgensons was selected 14th overall by the Buffalo Sabres last June, while Matheson was plucked by the Florida Panthers 23rd.
“I do stay in contact a lot with Zemgus,” Downing said. “Not so much about the draft but more about how our seasons are going.”
Girgensons has one goal and five points in 19 games playing in the American Hockey League this season. Downing, in his draft season, has eight points in 18 games – all assists.
The 17-year-old, who had four goals and 10 points in 54 games last year, insists he doesn’t feel any added pressure of having eyes on him all season.
“It does not feel much different skating this year,” the Michigan commit said. “The only thing different is that I’m a veteran player now so I have a new role on the team to help the younger guys out.”
In fact, the Canton, MI product insists he doesn’t even feel the eyes on him.
“I don’t really pay attention to the scouts in the stands. I know they are there but I’m not worried about it,” Downing said. “I want to do anything I can to help my team win a hockey game and if the scouts like me, then good. If not then next game I have to do something better then I did the night before.”
A lesson learned, no doubt, from the pair of high profile draft picks that preceded him.
What’s it like seeing your name in rankings and articles on the Internet and on Twitter?
In all honesty, I don’t like seeing my name all over the Internet because I’m not the type of kid who likes that exposure. I’m more of a humble kid who plays the game because I fell in love with it, not because I have to play it.
Has the USHL Futures Draft prepared you in any way for the NHL Draft?
The futures draft has prepared me because I know what I’m up for and I know that I will have to talk to a lot of people and scouts and just wait to see if my name is called.
You’ve competed in a couple of high profile events in the All-American Prospects game and the World Junior A Challenge. Did you use either of those events to measure yourself against other draft eligible defensemen?
Competing in those events is a big honor and winning gold made the WJAC so much better. I think it does help me show where I’m at because I’m playing against older and more experienced players and I just kind of play my role.
What made you decide on the University of Michigan?
I decided the U of M because I fell in love with the school when I first stepped foot on the campus and because I’m a hometown guy growing up right down the street. I have so much respect for coach Red (Berenson) and Billy Powers and Brian Wisemen. They are fantastic people and I cannot wait to play for them.
Is there a chance the NHL team that drafts you could persuade you to go play in the OHL?
The OHL is not an option for me. I believe that you can only play hockey for a certain amount of time and when you’re down you always need a back up plan.
How nice was it to play with your brother last season, and do you rib him at all about outscoring him? What did he mean to your transition into the USHL and how has he helped your development?
I loved playing with him and having him around. He taught me so much and really helped me mature. I never rib him about points because we are not the type of brothers to do that. Now, when it comes to plus minus it was always a battle.
What is it about Jon Merril’s game that you’d like to model your own style after?
I love the way Jon Merill plays. He has an unbelievable set of hands and knows what he is doing with the puck at all times. I hope I can fill the roll he plays but I know in order to do that I have to work my tail off day in ad day out.