Jake Crawford is turning heads his first season playing in the Ontario Hockey League.
The 16-year-old forward from Barrie is 10 games into his rookie season with the Owen Sound Attack and has impressed the club that took him in the second round of last spring’s OHL Priority Selection.
Crawford made the team out of training camp and hasn’t looked back.
“I know it sounds a bit cliché, but he’s really impressed us since the first day in rookie camp,” explained Attack general manager Dale DeGray. “He works so hard and just keeps going along. He’s really put the work in going back to the summer.”
Crawford was taken with the 33rd selection. Not many players outside the first round (20 picks) play in their first season of eligibility. But as DeGray alluded to, Crawford gave the team little choice but to keep him on their roster when the regular season opened last month.
The six-foot-three left-winger has scored a goal and added three assists so far. He’s generally considered one of the better, and somewhat surprising, rookies around the OHL in the early going.
“He’s only 16, but there are times he plays like he’s 19,” said interim head coach Darren Rumble, who is also a Barrie native. “The type of game he plays, he works hard, picks up on defensive-zone concepts and plays a 200-foot game. If he can continue to develop like that, he projects as a very (effective) two-way pro.”
Rumble and DeGray both pointed out that trying to figure what will happen by the time a player is old enough to turn professional can be tricky.
For every player such as Attack forward Colby Barlow, an Orillia native who had a preordained sense that he was going to be a first-round NHL draft pick from the time he arrived in Owen Sound two years ago, many others follow a more gradual learning curve. Some never get to the level that was originally expected after a strong start.
“The things Jake has to work on really are the things that every 16-year-old needs to do and that only comes from experience,” said DeGray. “When he gets that experience, he has a chance to become a very good player.”
Indeed. And sometimes experience shows a player how far the journey will be, like when Crawford was passed over for a spot for next month’s World U17 Challenge tournament in Prince Edward Island. Some observers thought Crawford may have done enough in the first month of the season to get the nod, but he was left off both Canadian teams when the rosters were announced earlier this week.
“I was disappointed, but not surprised,” Crawford said. “I knew talking to people and from my agent that it was going to be (tough).”
Crawford also faced his bit of adversity on the ice last weekend when he was assessed a slew-footing penalty and suspended for two games. It was unintentional and not a particularly serious infraction, but he’ll have to sit out both Attack games this weekend and won’t be eligible to return until Wednesday at home against the Flint Firebirds.
Crawford also has an interesting personal story. His father, Brent, was a minor hockey star himself, but was diagnosed with cancer while playing for the old Junior B Colts, forerunner to the major junior version. He made a full recovery and is now a teacher at St. Joan of Arc in Barrie. Crawford’s uncle, Glenn Crawford, Brent’s younger brother, was a member of the 1999 OHL champion Belleville Bulls and was a draft pick of the New Jersey Devils.
Jake played his minor hockey in Barrie until his OHL draft year (U16) when he moved to the York-Simcoe Express. His younger brother, Cole, who is playing U15 this season for York-Simcoe, followed his big brother down the highway.
For now, Crawford is trying to act like a sponge to take in as much as possible every day at the rink. He made special mention of Barlow and another Attack forward, Ethan Burroughs, for setting a good example and said that he’s trying to learn from his older teammates, Rumble and the rest of the Attack coaching staff.
“Everyone has been great with me, (Greg Walters) for the first while, too,” said Crawford, in reference to the Attack coach who was let go earlier this month.
Rumble and assistant coach Sean Teakle "have us set up together at school and I’ve also made a few new friends there as well. So, it’s going well," he added.
The last word goes to DeGray: “When we scout players, sometimes we look at things like how they act, what they do when they are at the rink. You can see how they handle themselves, things like how they treat their parents after a game, how they conduct themselves, what they eat, that sort of thing.
"You notice kids that are good people and that was one of the things we noticed about Jake before we drafted him," the GM added. "We’re not surprised how well he’s doing based on the homework we did in getting him here.”