With the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament nearing, no one is quite able to get an accurate handle on how the American crop of players will compete against some of the world’s best 1995 birth years.
One aspect of this year’s team is for certain: Erie Otters’ goaltender Devin Williams could very well be the Americans’ x-factor.
Since last fall, the spotlight and expectations surrounding Williams have grown seemingly by the day. Williams began his junior career at the Tier III Junior A hockey level in the North American 3 Hockey League, a league two levels below the United States Hockey League. As a 16-year-old, Williams posted mediocre numbers in his first junior hockey stint with a 3.88 GAA and .896 SV% for the NA3HL’s Metro (Mich.) Jets.
After three months with the Jets, Williams got a somewhat unexpected, fulltime call-up with the OHL’s Erie Otters. The jump from Metro to Erie was a big one, but Williams proved up to snuff in his eight starts posting a 3.72 GAA and a .908 SV% for a rebuilding Otter team.
The jump between the two leagues proved to be a big one, but the Saginaw, Mich. native believed it was worth it.
“I thought [Metro] was good for my development and to get accustomed to the speed of juniors,” Williams said. “That’s where Erie sent me and it wasn’t for me to question; it was my job to prove myself from there.”
Not only has Williams proved himself to the Erie organization, but to USA Hockey as well. In last summer’s Select 16 camp, Williams dominated en route to winning the gold medal with the United States in the U17 5 Nations Tournament. Williams had a similar performance in July’s Select 17 camp, posting 1.61 GAA and .947 SV% in five camp games.
The performance at the camp landed him a spot on the Ivan Hlinka teamHis next step: to prove himself amongst the under-18 elite goaltenders on the world stage. The trial begins on Aug. 13 as the United States takes on Russia in Breclav, Czech Republic.
Prior to leaving for the USA’s pre-tournament mini-camp in Washington, D.C., Williams talked to Future Considerations about his first year of junior hockey, the upcoming tournament, and his outlook on next season.
You were selected in the fifth round of last year’s OHL Priority Selection. Not many of the players selected in the fifth round got a sniff of the OHL last season, but you played significant minutes in your three months with Erie. How much did that help your confidence?
It helped a lot. It’s good to get all those junior games under your belt. I am playing against high-end talent every night with guys who are going to be playing in the NHL this year or years to come. So it’s definitely a confidence booster for me heading into the Ivan Hlinka and hockey in the future.
On paper you really dominated the Select 17 camp. How do you feel like it went for you personally?
By far, it was my best [Select] camp. I felt physically and mentally stronger with being able to have extra training on and off the ice with my trainer has really helped. Playing against high-level competition in the OHL this season also helped heading into camp as well.
You played well in the U17 5 Nations tournament last summer; do you think that experience will help you heading into the Ivan Hlinka?
I think it gave me a little indicator as to what is out there internationally, but the tournament coming up is going to be a huge step up and we are going to be playing against a lot of guys who have a really good shot at getting drafted this year and playing in the NHL someday so I think it’s going to be a really good indicator for everyone on the team as to where we stand amongst the top players in the world at our age.
At the end of the season, it looked as if you were going to be the starter in Erie come this fall. Erie took Oscar Dansk in the Import Draft, obviously nothing will be given to him, but has your outlook on this next season changed at all?
Not at all. I think Oscar and I can share things together and learn from each other and it’s going to be cool to play with a guy of his caliber. At the end of the day, everyone is fighting for that [starting spot] and it’s going to be tough, but I’m looking forward to it.
How much did your half of the season with Erie help you?
Personally, I think I did pretty well. Obviously, the first couple of games it was different getting acclimated to the speed of the OHL, but after my first couple of games I felt accustomed to it and it was good to get those games under my belt.
What are your expectations for yourself personally for this upcoming season?
It’s kind of take it as I go, but for me right now, I want to try and be the starter and be in excellent shape going into camp to prove to the coaches that I’m capable of being the starter this season.