The Kelowna Rockets are a team on the rise that features a stunning young nucleus of up and coming players on the verge of breaking out, not the least of which is left winger Carter Rigby.
In his first full WHL year, the 6-foot, 210-pound Penticton, BC prodcut potted 21 goals and 36 points in 65 games, while adding 90 penalty minutes. Those totals sat the talented power forward 13th overall in the entire dub among rookie scorers, sixth overall in total points and third in goals on the Rockets.
Last season Rigby jumped around and produced at every level, putting up an impressive 22 goals and 43 points in 26 games with the KIJHL’s Osoyoos Coyotes, three goals and 12 points in 19 games (including playoffs) with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees and spent a few games with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars.
He has a swagger about his game that scouts have to love and combines size, hands, and a pro calibre shot with a ton of character, toughness, and hockey smarts. When he is on his game, he is a physical imposing force on the ice, working hard along the wall, creating space for his linemates, utilizing is shot, and he won’t shy away from dropping the gloves when needed. The 18-year-old is mature beyond his years when it comes to the game of hockey, and simply knows what he has to do to be effective. And, while Rigby was noticeably absent from NHL Central Scoutings final rankings of North American skaters, I can tell you first hand if he isn’t a sleeper pick come draft time, he will come back to haunt the teams that pass on him.
I had the pleasure of catching up with the gifted power forward, who is as entertaining off the ice as he is on it, for a quick Q and A.
Who has been your biggest help and influence in developing your game?
Carter: My biggest help in my hockey career has been any Minor Hockey coach, or anyone, that has just coached me or at least put some time in to help me on my game. The biggest influence has been my father, ever since I was growing up he has pushed me and helped me every step of the way.
I actually scouted you last year for the Ice while you were with the Osoyoos Coyotes of the KIJHL, a lot of parents and players still dread hearing “Jr. B” even though it can be great for a kids development. How did your brief time there better prepare you for Major Junior hockey?
Carter: I personally think Jr. B is turning out to be a great stepping stone for young players looking to make the jump to Jr. A, whether it be tier II, or, tier I Jr. A. Playing in Osoyoos helped me tremendously I feel to regain my confidence that was lost in Prince George. I believe confidence is a huge part of hockey and especially the way I have to play the game. Junior B got me used to older, stronger players that I had never really experienced before. Playing in Osoyoos was one of the smartest decisions I made in getting to get to where I am today.
As much as the knock on you may be your skating, which has improved immensely over the past year, you more than make up for it with your shot, hockey IQ and your character, what do you see being your best attrbutes as a hockey player?
Carter: My best attributes, I feel as a player, are my shot, size and strength, and my vision (or hockey IQ). As a bigger guy, I continuously have to work on my skating to keep up with other key players in the league. I have to find other ways to be effective. I feel I can create a lot of open space for my teammates, by grinding down low and playing hard on the body every night. And when I get the opportunity, I like to station myself in the high slot for a snap shot.
What was your ‘welcome moment’ to the WHL?
Carter: My first WHL game was with the Prince George Cougars when I was 15-years-old (as a call up). The game was actually held in Kelowna, which was great as I had most of my family and friends there to watch. No doubt, I was pretty nervous especially having to start the game. Soon after the puck drop, Kelowna was entering our zone and I thought I had Brandon McMillan lined up for a big hit…which did not happen! Just as I went to hit him, I toe picked 5 feet from the boards and smashed face first into them. That was definitely my ‘welcome moment’ to the Western Hockey League.
In my opinion, you have some Iginla-like attributes to your game, with your ability to score and get engaged physically, is that a fair comparison, or is there another NHLer you mold your game after?
Carter: I think being compared to any player in the NHL is a good feeling, no matter whom. Everyone has different opinions on who I may, or may not play like, but I try to model myself to be a player like Iginla. He is big, strong, possesses a great shot, and is an unreal character player both on and off the ice. If I could mold myself into any player I would likely choose Millan Lucic of the Boston Bruins. A big body who can score, fight, hit, sees the ice, and plays in key situations.
You’ve scored a ton of goals over your young career at every level, is there one that stands out as your biggest?
Carter: I’ve been lucky to score at every level, but one that sticks out in my mind is my first WHL goal, when I was a call up with Prince George. Just to get the first one off your back is a huge relief, and I was extremely excited to get it.
What is the highlight of your career thus far?
Carter: A single highlight is hard to pick out, but a game I will always remember is my first game with the Kelowna Rockets this year where I finished with two goals, an assist, and a fight. That was special to do in the home opener with a bunch of family in the stands.
Kelowna had a disappointing season, but with all the young talent that the Rockets have the future looks extremely bright. How do you like the make up of this sqaud looking ahead to 2012-13?
Carter: We as a team were very young this year. Very inexperienced, myself included. We had some good stretches, but consistency is something we will need to focus on next year, and that comes with age and confidence. I feel very confident that our team in the coming years will be the team to beat. We are fast, tough, young, and will be an exciting team to watch. We need to put this past year behind us and focus on what we can do to better, to make sure we have a better result in the upcoming season.
Because this is your NHL Draft year, did you feel any added pressure to perform?
Carter: There’s always going to be pressure in any game you play, but it is a little weird knowing that NHL scouts are in the stands and could be potentially watching you. I try not to think about it too much, and just go out there and play my game, but like every player that’s played in the league, it’s in the back of your head all the time.
I know it’s an honor in itself to be drafted, but if you could pick the NHL team that selected you, who would you choose?
Carter: If my name’s called on draft day (or days), that’s good enough for me, I’ll play for anyone. If I could choose any team in the NHL I would have to go with any original six franchise. There is so much history that goes along with those teams, and I think it would be such a great experience.
In your opinion, who is the toughest defenseman to beat 1-on-1 in the entire WHL?
Carter: Ryan Murray is an unreal player. He plays his position very well, and it’s pretty hard to find a way to get past him. He has a solid stick, and good body positioning at all times, which makes life pretty tough.
If you could describe yourself to NHL scouts in one word what would it be?
Carter: One word I would use to describe myself would be, tenacious.
What do you enjoy doing in your downtime from the game?
Carter: After the hockey season I really enjoy playing men’s fastball with my dad. I love baseball, and just playing ball with a bunch of guys is a fun time away from hockey.
Any hidden talents?
Carter: I can juggle, and when I’m really feeling good, I can even juggle with my eye’s closed!