By Patrick King
Casey Cizikas hopes National Hockey League scouts believe in second chances.
The 17-year-old forward from the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors readily admits the first half of this season was frustrating. Scoring just 10 goals and five assists through the first 26 games, Cizikas hasn’t lived up to the hype in his NHL draft-eligible season thus far. With that in mind, he’s hoping to use that adversity in the second half to prove to scouts where he belongs.
“Given the first half I had, I think a lot of people are doubting the kind of player I am,” Cizikas said. “I think that first half hurt me a lot (in the draft rankings) but there are still (32) games to go in the second half to show the scouts what kind of player I am.”
The third overall pick by the Majors in the 2007 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection, Cizikas’ name was on the scouting radar after a rookie season where he compiled 18 goals and 23 assists for 41 points in 62 games.
Cizikas capped his first OHL season with two gold medals: one with Ontario’s Under-17 team in January and again with Canada’s Under-18 team in August.
Expectations then grew for the speedy, two-way forward entering his second season. Once regarded as a potential first-round pick for this summer’s draft, Cizikas wasn’t even invited to the Canadian Hockey League/NHL Top Prospects Game later this month in Oshawa, Ont.
So where did it all go wrong?
Playing on an offensively-starved team in Mississauga, Cizikas placed a lot of pressure on himself to lead his team offensively. As the scoring chances came without resulting in goals, Cizikas was forced to try something new.
“It just seems like I haven’t been getting the bounces but it had to do with the way I was playing,” he explained. “I wasn’t playing my game and I wasn’t playing the way I wanted to play.”
A reliable defensive forward, Cizikas has always been cautious not to sacrifice defence for offence. As the season grew older, he started taking more shots which resulted in more chances.
Cizikas has found his name on the score-sheet more often in December after refining his game but as teammate Cameron Gaunce explains, Cizikas’ value has to be measured more by his play than by the results in the boxscore.
“It’s one of those things where the occasional fan may see he doesn’t have that many points and think he’s not having a very good year,” Gaunce said. “What you have to look at is our team doesn’t score many goals. If the team doesn’t score goals, no one can get points.”
Scoring goals hasn’t been much of an issue for Mississauga lately. The Majors had won seven consecutive games before Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to Brampton. In the team’s last eight games, they scored 40 goals, an average of five per game. Prior to that, the team scored an average of 2.66 goals per game.
While he hasn’t scored often this season, Cizikas has made them count. Three of his 10 goals were game winners while six came on the power-play and two shorthanded.
“He’s got instincts that you just can’t teach,” assistant coach James Boyd said. “Like any good player, he wants to be on the ice when the game is on the line and he wants the responsibility that comes with being an elite player. He relishes that role.”
Cizikas’ favourite player is future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic. The captain of the Colorado Avalanche has been lauded throughout his career for his laser-quick release on his wrist shot and his leadership abilities; both are qualities Cizikas tried implementing in his game.
As rookies on the team last season, Gaunce remembers Cizikas being one of the friendlier players early on. In spite of everything Cizikas accomplished in his hockey career, Gaunce marvels at how down to earth his teammate remains.
“He’s very humble and none of the success he’s accomplished has gone to his head,” Gaunce said. “He’s a good guy to be on a team with.”
Cizikas maintains he would like to score another 15 to 20 goals this season. While the start of the season has been tough, he was candid in describing how he wants NHL scouts to describe him: “That I don’t give up. I just face adversity and I can face no matter what anyone says to me. I’ll still come out with a strong performance.”
When asked where he pictures himself in five years, his answer was simple: in the NHL. As dedicated as he is to the game, he said he expects nothing less than to be living out his dream.
“I think only time will tell how quickly he’ll be able to get there but I think it’s more up to Casey than anybody else,” Gaunce said. “If he’s able to continue to improve his development I think it will be sooner rather than later that he’ll be in the NHL.”
Until then, Cizikas sets out to prove to NHL scouts he can make good on a second chance.