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By Dave Pollard, guelphstorm.com exclusive
Last summer, as the clock ticked down on training camp, there was some concern that Scott Kosmachuk wouldn't join the Guelph Storm after being selected in the second round of the OHL draft.
That concern turned out to be unfounded -- Kosmachuk signed in late August -- but it appears the wait will be well worth it for the Storm.
After a slow start to his rookie season with the Storm, Kosmachuk has made huge strides since the Christmas break, improving his game to the point where he has become one of the team's most dependable two-way forwards.
"I think he's come on week after week," Storm general manager Mike Kelly said. "He's been getting better and it's been like that for eight weeks, to tell you the truth. I like him alot. As a 16-year-old kid, obviously he didn't play a whole lot early in the season and was patient and worked hard at his game but now he's seeing 15, 17, 18 minutes a game. I've always said if you want players to contribute in February, they better be playing in October and November. Maybe he got held up a bit there but he's started playing regularly in November and December. He's just a good player, that's why he was taken in the second round."
In fact, things are going so well and Kosmachuk has upped his game so much, he's starting to draw comparisons to another Storm second-round pick.
"I see an awful lot of Taylor Beck in him, quite frankly," Kelly said. "I think he's got an offensive dimension and certainly is determined to be a player. He's a good sized kid and can skate pretty well."
That sounds an awful lot like Beck, who was picked in the second round (31st overall) of the 2007 draft, two slots ahead of where Kosmachuk was taken. All Beck has done is put together back-to-back 90-plus point seasons, and racked up 109 goals and 265 points in his four seasons with the Storm.
With three games left on the regular-season schedule, Kosmachuk has six goals and 15 assists. His 21 points as a rookie is the same number Beck totalled in 2007-08.
As bright as Kosmachuk's offensive future in the OHL is, it's been his play in the other two zones that has allowed coach Scott Walker to increase his ice time as the season has gone along. Lately, the 6-foot, 177-pound Toronto native has teamed up with fellow rookie Brock McGinn and second-year forward Francis Menard to give the Storm a forward line that can be counted on to take preventing goals as seriously as scoring them.
"They're all playing well," Walker said. "They keep the game real simple and they play a real solid hockey game. Right now (Kosmachuk) is playing among our top nine forwards and he's playing hard, chipping it in and playing the way he can. He has the ability to challenge guys one on one down low. He's learning that and he's challenging guys one on one, taking the shots when he needs to, going hard to the net. And it's still a learning process."
More often than not, first-year forwards come into the league with a limited understanding of how to play without the puck and struggle to grasp the concept despite constant teaching by the coaching staff. But Kosmachuk hasn't had the same difficulties some of the Storm's older forwards have at times this season.
"We have confidence we can put him and that line out against the first line of the other team so it's a real positive statement," Kelly said. "Often times 16 year olds know that if they're not (responsible defensively), they're probably not going to go on the ice the next time. These kids that play the game right, as 17 and 18 year olds they're going to also be a 40-goal scorer but they're doing it the right way and are that much closer to being ready for the National Hockey League."
Although Kosmachuk is quick to admit he expected to get limited ice time as a rookie trying to grasp the nuances of a game played by bigger, stronger, faster and older players, he believes the turnaround in his performance is a result of getting more of a chance.
"A lot of it is getting an opportunity to get out there on the ice," he said. "You get more comfortable with yourself, the systems, and you keep it going from there. Our line has been together for a little while now so we're getting used to each other, knowing where we are on the ice. It's just been getting better and better each game and practice. Definitely, I think I can contribute more. You get better every game and we're going to get better as a team, we're going to get more comfortable with each other."
Comfortable probably isn't the word Kosmachuk would describe his start to the season. After finishing with 39 goals and 33 assists with the Toronto Marlboros minor midgets, it took him until Dec. 10 to score his first goal with the Storm, three months to the day after he recorded his first assist.
"Being one of the top players in minor midget and you're coming into the OHL as a younger player (is a tough adjustment)," Kosmachuk said. "Other players are way bigger, stronger and a lot more skilled than guys you played against in minor midget. It's a matter of getting used to the fact you can't do all the stuff you used to do. There was a little bit of thought (to waiting for an NCAA scholarship) but the OHL is a great place to be and I'm lucky to be here and glad to be here."
The Storm is glad the kid they call Kos is around, too. He's contributing now, perhaps a little sooner than expected, but his brightest days are ahead.
"I would say if I asked the other people in the organization, they'd probably say yeah (he's come along quicker than expected)," Kelly said. "Maybe because I'd seen him for the two months I was scouting for Carolina, I thought I saw something in this kid that you look for so I can't say I've been totally surprised. Had it not come out of him between now and the end of the year, I'd still have been real, real positive. It's just a plus for us that it's coming out now. It certainly allows us to breath a little easier over the summer knowing that we've got some guys who come back."