2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Colton Sissons, F, Kelowna (WHL)

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 forward Colton Sissons. 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.

Entrusted with his team’s captaincy at the start of his second Western Hockey League campaign, Colton Sissons, 18, would quickly grasp the various responsibilities in which Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska and his coaching staff would bestow upon him. Rather than wilting under the spotlight, the North Vancouver-born Sissons would relish his newly-appointed role and thrive both on and off the ice.

“Being named captain – at 18 – really showed me that the coaches truly trusted me in leading the team,” said the 6-foot-1, 190-pound center/right winger, who will turn 19 on November 5. “It’s a big responsibility, but I think that I’ve handled the pressure pretty well.”

Despite being left out of TSN’s final top-60 rankings – which was posted on June 11 by Craig Button – many NHL insiders marvel at Sissons’ leadership skills, drawing comparisons to both Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler and Phoenix’s Shane Doan for his gritty, two-way play. He could very well hear his name being called at the tail end of the upcoming draft’s opening round. The 2012 NHL Entry Draft is scheduled to take place on the weekend of June 22-23, emanating from the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

“The way Colton approaches the game is the reason why I named him captain, “said Huska, who just completed his fifth season behind the bench in Kelowna. “He is a tireless worker, who leads by example.

“Since he arrived here (in Kelowna) two years ago, Colton went from being our third-to-fourth line checking center to becoming our # 1 center, playing in all situations.”

Taught by his father to skate at age six, Sissons quickly grew fond of every opportunity he stepped foot onto his neighborhood ice.

“While I don’t remember much about my first skating lesson, all I know was that I had lots of fun.”

One year later, Sissons – at age seven – would play competitively for the North Vancouver Winter Club. He would continue to hone his skills for the next eight years all across Vancouver, including spending four years playing midget hockey for the Vancouver NW Giants in the British Columbia Major Midget Hockey Legaue.

In his final season playing for the Giants – 2008-09 – Sissons would play top-line minutes alongside 2011 NHL Entry Draft top overall selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Still best friends to date, Sissons credits the Edmonton Oiler-draftee for making him a tireless worker – both on and off the ice.

“Ryan works harder than anyone that I’ve come across,” said Sissons, who recorded 54 points – 30 goals and 24 assists – in 39 games playing with Nugent-Hopkins. “Learning from him has made me a much more determined player.”

Following the season, a then 15-year-old Sissons was selected by Saskatoon in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft, yet his rights were traded less than a year later to Kelowna.

“Being traded to Kelowna was great for me,” said Sissons, who would play his 2009-10 season for the Westside Warriors of the British Columbia Hockey League, where he would collect 22 points – six goals and 16 assists – in 58 games. He added a goal and an assist in 11 playoff games. “Kelowna had a great organization and an even better coaching staff.”

Sissons would make his WHL debut for Kelowna at the start of the 2010-11 season. Playing five games short of a full 68-game WHL campaign, Sissons registered 41 points – 17 goals and 24 assists – while racking up 46 penalty minutes. He helped the Rockets capture the WHL’s B.C. Division, securing the second seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

After sweeping past Prince George in the opening round, the Rockets fell prey to the Western Conference’s top seeded Portland Winterhawks in the semifinals, losing in six games. Sissons recorded six points – three goals and three assists – in 10 postseason games.

Huska instantly became enamored with his rookie’s all-around game.

“Colton has the ability to compete all over the ice,” said Huska, who himself was selected in the third round (76th overall) of the 1993 NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. “He can play in all situations, and is surely not afraid to be physical.”

Last September, Sissons returned to Kelowna for his second WHL season. With a ‘C’ stitched onto his jersey, as he led his Rockets onto the ice on opening night in Everett, Sissons was more than ready to wow all 30 NHL scouts over his team’s 68 regular season games and beyond. Yet, while mindful of the daily draft chatter, Sissons was himself a non-participant on the internet boards.

“I would hear about the draft boards from friends and family,” said Sissons. “But rather than creating added stress on myself, I thought it would be better not to even read them.”

Sissons came out like gangbusters to open the 2011-12 season, as he scored 20 goals and added seven assists in his first 35 games. The fast start helped him rise through the International Scouting Service (ISS) rankings, as he was ranked 25th in the December 2011 rankings – the highest-ranked amongst WHL forwards.

However, Sissons’ fast start would be slowed by a concussion, suffered during a 3-2 loss to Kamloops in mid-February. For precautionary reasons, Sissons was kept on the sidelines for a couple of weeks.

Still, Sissons, a self-proclaimed Vancouver Canucks fan, finished the regular season with 26 goals and 15 assists in 58 games. He also helped to lead one of the league’s youngest teams into the postseason, as the Rockets placed sixth in the Western Conference standings with a 31-31-4-6 record. Unfortunately, their postseason stay was short-lived, as they were bounced – for a second consecutive season – by Portland in a four-game sweep.

Sissons had a goal and an assist in the four-game setback.

Despite the loss, the 2011-12 campaign provided Sissons a more, well-rounded resume, in which he believes will translate into a solid, two-way NHL player.

“My biggest strength is my two-way game,” said Sissons, who was invited to participate in this past February’s CHL Top Prospects Game in Kelowna. “Like Ryan Kesler, I like to play gritty.

“While I am currently 190 pounds, I am very hopeful to add on some weight. There is definitely room for me to grow.”

Huska also believes his team’s captain has the work ethic to excel on the NHL level.

“Colton is a guy who gives an honest effort every night,” said Huska. “He’s a high character player.

“As far as timeline is concerned, I would hope he finishes his 19th year with us here in Kelowna, and then progress in an NHL system right after that.”

Selecting fourth in the second round – 34th overall – of the 2012 NHL Draft, could Sissons’ grit and motor be an enticing option for the Islanders?

“I don’t catch a whole lot of the Islanders here,” said Sissons. “But what I do know about them is that they have some great, young skilled players.”

The 2012 NHL Entry Draft is just eight days away.