Editor's Note: * = Named to at least one of two OHL rosters for the Subway Super Series
In the case of an aspiring young hockey player, the destination overshadows the journey when the opportunity to play professionally is conceivably within reach. Whether a young lad is drafted early in his first year of eligibility, or his third go-around, or is bypassed altogether and signed as a free agent down the road -- the station of arrival matters more than the route taken.
At different stages in their respective OHL careers, all three members of the top line for the Mississauga Steelheads -- one of the hottest trios in the league -- could end up playing hockey for a living. Especially if they continue to make the same productive music together they have since the start of this campaign.
Approaching his first year of draft eligibility, Josh Burnside has above-average speed, great hands, smarts and a fantastic attitude. A nice recipe for a future NHLer, yes? At last check, Burnside was slated to go in the third or fourth round of the 2013 Draft. But a little more size and strength could go some length to improving that projection.
"I still need to get bigger out there," the 17-year-old winger agreed recently, pledging to add to the 20 lbs. of muscle he gained this summer. "They (the opposition) can push me around still [and] I want to stand my ground and be able to do my thing."
Burnside's "thing" includes snuggling up to the net, creating space by asserting himself physically, winning battles in the corners, and bringing a sense of defensive responsibility to Mississauga's top line. His flaws/weaknesses are few, but the squad's general manager/head coach wants more -- as bench bosses are usually wont to do -- from the former blueliner.
"He could be a little bit more physical," James Boyd admitted, following Friday's 4-1 victory over the Peterborough Petes. "I think he errs on the side of caution, and that might be the defenseman in him, but I would like to see him be a little bit more aggressive. I don't mean running guys through the boards, but asserting himself when he has opportunities."
As an already noteworthy element of the 2013 draft conversation, Burnside's progress in that regard is worth tracking this season.
As for the top trio's elder statesman, the draft is no longer part of the equation for 20-year-old Riley Brace. But that doesn't mean the fifth-year player can be ruled out as a future pro. GM/Coach Boyd believes the well-rounded forward deserves a legitimate shot at the next level.
"Riley Brace is the straw that stirs the drink for our team, offensively (and) defensively," Boyd said, outlining the leadership role the veteran has taken on in the last couple of years. "When you need a big goal, he's often the guy that's involved in the play. I think he plays extremely hard and he's smart. And I hope he gets an opportunity."
He very well might. The two-way winger with a relatively new fondness for scoring was invited to development camp for the San Jose Sharks this past summer. And Brace is already on pace to exceed last season's 82-point output.
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