2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Adam Pelech, D, Erie (OHL)

Each week until the entry draft in June, Point Blank will be reporting on the top prospects in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. This week’s profile is defender Adam Pelech. You can keep a watch on our profiles via the “2012 Draft” tab at the top of the page and check out profiles of Islanders’ young guns filed under the “NYI Prospects” tab. We’re also working on a mock draft, which will be published next week.

As the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils embark on Game 2 of the NHL Finals on Saturday evening at the Rock, all eyes will remain focused on the series’ main characters -forward Dustin Brown and goaltender Jonathon Quick of the Kings, along with forward Ilya Kovalchuk and goaltender Martin Brodeur of the Devils.

Yet, a good reason why the Kings – the Western Conference’s eighth seed – and the Devils – the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed – each advanced on to the Stanley Cup has plenty to do with its supporting characters – players whose names barely hit the game’s scoring sheet, yet their presence can’t be overlooked.

Six-foot-three, 231-pound defenseman Matt Greene of the Kings and 6-foot-1, 225-pound defenseman Anton Volchenkov of the Devils have combined for six points – two goals and four assists – in 34 total playoff games. Still, their play during the postseason has been unflappable. Each has cleared would-be stragglers from stationing their bodies in front of their respectable net-minders, enabling both Quick and Brodeur the necessary sight lines to blocker away shots from the point.

Erie’s (OHL) Adam Pelech, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound stay-at-home defenseman, hopes to follow in both Greene’s and Volchenkov’s footsteps, and in the process pave his own mark onto the NHL scene. The Toronto-born Pelech, who turns 18 in mid-August, is just three short weeks away from realizing that professional dream, when his name, along with 210 others will be called at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh.

“Draft day is going to be nerve-wracking,” said Pelech, who will be the third member of the Pelech family to be drafted in the National Hockey League, joining older brother Matt (a 2005 first round selection by Calgary, currently playing in the San Jose system) and Mike (a 2009 sixth round selection by Los Angeles, currently playing for the Ontario Reign in the ECHL). Uncle Mike Gillis is currently the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. “But it should be a lot of fun.”

Pelech, once projected as a second or third round draft selection, is currently knocking at the door of the draft’s opening round. TSN’s Craig Button has pegged Pelech as his 34th overall prospect, with whispers of interest coming from Gillis’ Canucks at the 26th pick, along with Edmonton at the top of the second round, at pick 31.

“I have been around Adam for two seasons, and the first thing I noticed about him is how much he understands the game,” said Erie Otters assistant coach Peter Sidorkiewicz, who played 12 seasons (1987-98) manning the nets for the Hartford Whalers, New Jersey Devils and the then-expansion Ottawa Senators. “He knows how to play defense.

“There are a lot of guys out there who are just skillful, but if I was running a blue line out there against an opponent’s top line, there is no one that I would rather have out there than Adam. He is positionally strong, and can see what happens before it actually happens.”

Skating at three years old in a rink built by his father in the home’s backyard, Pelech instantly became hooked.

“I always loved playing in the rink,” said Pelech. “I watched both of my older brothers play, and it made me want to play even more.”

Two years after lacing his first pair of skates, a then five-year-old Pelech signed on to play for the North York Knights. He would later move on to play seven seasons for the traditionally-rich Toronto Marlboros (Marlies), playing alongside future OHL teammate Connor Brown and foes Matt Finn (Guelph Storm), Scott Kosmachuk (Guelph Storm) and Scott Laughton (Oshawa Generals). All are expected to be drafted among the draft’s top-50 selections.

In Pelech’s final season in Toronto (2009-10), the self-proclaimed Maple Leaf fan collected 34 points – six goals and 28 assists – in 69 games, while racking up 40 penalty minutes. He would help the Marlies capture the 2010 OHL Cup, where he scored a goal and assisted on four others in seven playoff games.

Following in his brothers footsteps, Pelech was selected in the second round (22nd overall) of the 2010 OHL Draft by the Otters.

“Both of my brothers loved playing in the OHL,” said Pelech, whose brother Matt played for London, Sarnia and Belleville in his time in the ‘O’, while Mike skating for Mississauga St. Michael’s. “So I knew it was the right place for me to hone my skills.”

As a 16-year-old rookie, Pelech played in 65 of his team’s 68 games, scoring one goal and adding 13 assists. He would help his team reach the postseason, but the Otters dropped a hard-fought seven-game series to Windsor. Pelech assisted on two goals during the team’s playoff run.

“As a 16-year-old, Adam never looked out of place,” said Sidorkiewicz. “He never shied away from playing physical, and always played smart with the puck.”

After attending Team Canada-Ontario’s under-17 final camp, just months before he played his first junior hockey game in Erie, Pelech would help that squad capture the 2011 World Hockey Challenge Gold Medal six months later in Winnipeg. Playing alongside 2012 draftees Finn and Peterborough’s Slater Koekkoek, Pelech collected an assist in six tournament games.

Less than seven months later, Pelech would capture his second Gold Medal– this time playing for Team Canada in the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, emanating from the Czech Republic. Playing with five potential 2012 first round draft picks, including Koekkoek, Moose Jaw’s Morgan Rielly, Red Deer’s Matthew Dumba, Edmonton’s Griffin Reinhart and Portland’s Derrick Pouliot, Pelech was held scoreless in five tournament games, yet provided the Canadians much-needed muscle on the back end.

“My strength is my biggest asset,” said Pelech, who models his own game after current Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger. “While I am presently 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, I am hoping to add a couple more inches and pounds to my frame.”

Pelech returned to the Otters line-up in September for his second junior hockey league campaign. Unfortunately for Pelech, the season proved to be an injury-riddled one. He suffered an early season fractured wrist, which forced him out of the lineup for 23 games. In all, Pelech played a limited 44-game schedule, collecting 20 points – two goals and 18 assists – while racking up 52 penalty minutes.

The Otters suffered a similar fate as their 25-minute-a-night defenseman, as they were only able to muster a league-worst 26 points (10-52-3-3).

Despite the dreadful season, Pelech would once again return to international play at season’s end, playing for Team Canada in the 2012 IIHF Under-18 Championships in the Czech Republic. He, along with Dumba, Kelowna’s Damon Severson and Kingston’s Warren Steele – all 2012 draftees – comprised of four of the team’s seven defensemen.

The Canadians, who dropped a tightly-contested 2-1 decision to the Americans in the semifinals, would rebound to capture the Bronze Medal, after defeating Finland 5-4 in OT. Pelech was held scoreless in seven games, but was a +2 in tournament play.

“Adam is a good all-around kid, whom every NHL team would love to have on its roster,” said Sidorkiewicz, who has compared Pelech’s play to that of Buffalo Sabres’ stay-at-home defenseman Robyn Regehr. “With Pelly, you know what you get on every shift.

“With the low scoring, tight checking games we see in the NHL today, a player with Adam Pelech’s all-around skill-set are hard to come by.”

Pelech is simply hoping to making the most of his opportunity … in due time.

“My timeline on when I will be ready to play in the NHL is as soon as possible,” said Pelech, who was named his team’s Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year, despite playing in only 44 games. He joined former Islanders defenseman Chris Campoli as the only defenseman in Otters team history to be named the Player of the Year. Furthermore, Pelech won the Sertz Family Scholastic Award as the team’s top student-athlete for a second straight season. “A team who drafts me might think that I need a couple of years to develop, but I feel like I’m almost ready.”

Ideally for the Islanders, Pelech’s name will still be on the board when they are making their second round selection (34th overall). Bereft of stay-at-home defenseman, Pelech serves an immediate need on Long Island. He, along with Scott Mayfield – a 2011 second round selection by the Islanders (34th overall) – could be defensive cogs for a blue-line lacking that imposing grit.

“I watch a lot of hockey,” said Pelech. “From what I see with the Islanders, they have a good young group of guys. They should be a very good team in the future.”

The 2012 NHL Entry Draft is just 21 days away.