While the fan base in Sudbury has grown very restless, the players remain incredibly positive and optimistic. "You need to come in every day and want to get better. Every night you have to come in thinking that you can win. You just have to have that mindset," says sophomore defenceman Kyle Capobianco. This enthusiastic and upbeat attitude is paying dividends on the ice. Sure the team is only 3-7 in their last 10. But they're making the opposition sweat. The Sudbury Wolves are not rolling over and playing dead and fans and scouts should be impressed by that.
|John Lappa/Sudbury Star/QMI Agency|
The club's 7th overall selection in 2013 struggled last year. "Last year I would get down on myself too easily," says the 6'1 blueliner and Oakville Rangers graduate. "The guys in the OHL are so much more skilled and faster. You're playing against guys that are a few years older and that are physically more mature."
This year has been a different story though. Don't let the -42 fool you. Capobianco has been the club's top defenceman and has blossomed into the type of player who can be relied upon in all situations. His 39 points are actually only 5 off of the Sudbury scoring lead and he has the potential to nearly quadruple his offensive production from last year.
The 67th ranked skater in North America (according to NHL Central Scouting) is blessed with a great head for the game and a smooth skating stride. "I've been a really good skater since an early age. That really helps my game, especially in puck retrieval," says Capobianco. His skating ability also helps him offensively where he's able to make a good first pass and make smart decisions in jumping up in the play.
The question is, will scouts hold Capobianco accountable for the poor year that Sudbury has had? Does Capobianco deserve to be rated higher and is there a bias towards defenders on good teams in the OHL? He's quick to shake off that notion. "Those guys earn their ice time on those stronger teams. They do well because they're surrounded by great players and they're great players themselves." He continues, "Scouts have been doing this long enough for them to take all things into consideration. They see how a certain player reacts to certain situations and are able to see past a lot of the statistical aspects of the game."
One venue that would give Capobianco a chance to prove that he should be rated higher is the World Under 18 Hockey Championships. With the Wolves eliminated from the playoff race, he is definitely receiving consideration from the Hockey Canada scouting staff for a spot on that team. Ultimately it will depend upon what other players become available across the CHL, but there's no question that Capobianco's skating and puck distribution abilities would be an asset on the big ice. He'd get the chance to play with some other great players and put himself in consideration with the likes of Matt Spencer, Travis Dermott, and Vince Dunn for the top defender available from the OHL.
Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, it's hard not to imagine the Wolves improving greatly next year. The team's younger players will be another year older. They've got a bevy of draft picks, including the 1st overall selection. And they'll have an opportunity to improve their European contingent with a top import pick. To quote Capobianco, "I think we'll surprise a lot of people and put a dent in the Eastern Conference."
So even if this year was tough on you Sudbury fans out there, fear not; there is light at the end of the tunnel. This Sudbury Wolves team has put itself in a position to be back up near the top of the Conference again in a few years with a strong leader and quality building block like Kyle Capobianco steering the ship.
Otten - As a rookie last year, you went through some ups and downs. Why is it so difficult for a first year defender to transition from midget?
Capobianco - I think the guys are so much more skilled and faster. You're playing against guys that are a few years older that are physically more mature. And you have to adjust to the speed of the game. Once you figure that out you can regain some of your confidence.
Otten - So what do you think are the biggest reasons for your improvements this year then? There's no question that you've taken a massive step forward.
Capobianco - I think it was gaining confidence. Last year I would get down on myself too easily. This year I've also gotten a lot more playing time and that definitely helps. You start to get more confident and suddenly you start making more plays.
Otten - It's obviously been a tough year for you guys in Sudbury, so how do you stay positive and motivated in the room?
Capobianco - It's just a game of hockey. It's as easy as that. You need to come in every day and want to get better. You have dreams and aspirations to make it to the next level. Every night you have to come in thinking that you can win. You just have to have that mindset. After all, we're pretty lucky.
Otten - I think that's a great way to look at it. You guys have done such a great job lately of making the opposition earn their 'W's" against you. The fans in Sudbury should be happy with the way the future of the team is shaping up.
Otten - Even though you're only in your second year, do you feel like you've had to take on a leadership role with how much your increase in ice time, like you mentioned?
Capobianco - Yeah definitely. I'm not the most vocal guy in the room but I think I try to let my play do most of the talking. So yeah, the more ice time that I've received has definitely helped to establish my leadership role.
Otten - So how good do you think Sudbury can be next year then?
Capobianco - I think we'll surprise a lot of people. I think the guys returning are going to be able to make a big splash. I really like the rookies this year. I'll be curious to see their development. I also think we're in the right position right now with all the draft picks that we have. With all that we should be able to put a dent in the Conference next year.
Otten - In particular, I think Timpano has been playing great for you guys. His progression especially lately has been impressive. I'm excited to see how he does next year.
Capobianco - One hundred percent. Next year he's going to be motivated with his draft year and I think that's only going to make him even better.
Otten - Speaking of draft years. It's your NHL draft year. With how well you've been playing personally, do you think that the scouts underrate you because of the team you play on?
Capobianco - I think that they've been doing this long enough for them to take all things into consideration. They see how a certain player reacts to certain situations and are able to see past a lot of the statistical aspects of the game.
Otten - So you don't think that there's a bias towards players who play on stronger teams?
Capobianco - No. I think those guys earn their ice time on those stronger teams. They do well because they're surrounded by great players and they're a great player themselves. This in turn makes them even better. So yeah, I think it works both ways.
Otten - With the Wolves out of the playoff race, have you thought at all about playing at the U18's this year? The concept of that must be pretty exciting.
Capobianco - Um, I try not to think about that too much. We've still got a couple of games left and I want to finish those as hard as I can. Hopefully with the last couple of games I'll be able to make a good impression and turn some heads.
Otten - Yeah and honestly I think you've got a great shot at a spot. Your name definitely deserves to be in heavy consideration.
Capobianco - Thanks so much man.
Otten - If I were to ask a scout to list your biggest strengths as a player, what would they say?
Capobianco - I'd say my skating ability. I've been a really good skater since an early age. That really helps my game, especially in puck retrieval. Also, moving pucks forward. Whether it be rushing it or passing it up the boards to create offense. Both those are positives to my game.
Otten - Conversely, what would the scout say are your biggest areas of weakness?
Capobianco - I'd say, not my defensive zone coverage, but not eliminating guys quick enough or playing the body hard enough.
Otten - Yeah and I think that's just something that comes with added experience right? As you said, each year you gain confidence in different situations.
Capobianco - For sure. And my body needs to mature and I just need to get stronger and that will help me to be more confident.
Otten - Is there a player in the NHL that you look at and compare yourself to, or try to emulate your game after?
Capobianco - Um...someone like Oliver Ekman Larsson. He's a pretty good skater and I really like the way he plays. Same with TJ Brodie on Calgary. Both pretty offensive defenseman. Both having good years. I just try to watch those guys and learn as much as I can.
Otten - Good choices. Last question. Who's the toughest forward to stop in the OHL?
Capobianco - Hmmm, I don't know if there's one particular forward. But I'd say that Barrie's first line of Blandisi, Mangiapane, and Lebanc is incredibly tough.
Otten - Alright man, thanks for your time and best of luck with the rest of the season and moving forward.
Capobianco - Thanks so much.
Special thanks to Kyle Capobianco and Wolves assistant coach Bryan Verreault for taking time out of their busy schedules to make this article possible.