2012 DRAFT PROFILE – Damon Severson, D, 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 defender Damon Severson. 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.

Kelowna head coach Ryan Huska never doubted that defenseman Damon Severson had the potential to be a future NHL defenseman. Yet, after watching the then 16-year-old Severson complete his first full Western Hockey League season – back in 2010-2011 – Huska knew that the Melville, Saskatchewan-born blue-liner had to play with more consistency to take his game to the next level. One year later, Huska’s take on his now 6-foot-2, 198-pound rear guarder has changed dramatically, believing that his off-season dedication has elevated his skill-set into a sure-fire, top-four NHL defenseman.

“Last year – at age 16 – Damon would play sparingly as a top-4 defenseman, but he was mostly our 5th or 6th defenseman,” said Huska, who just completed his fifth season as head coach at Kelowna. The 36-year-old Huska, who won three consecutive Memorial Cup Championships – 1992-95 – as a center for the Kamloops (WHL) Blazers , would add a fourth Memorial Cup in 2004 – as an assistant coach – for Kelowna. “This year, he developed into a more confident player. He got much stronger over the summer.

“For him, consistency was the key.”

Competing night-in and night out against a bevy of top WHL defensive prospects, including Everett’s Ryan Murray, Red Deer’s Matthew Dumba, Moose Jaw’s Morgan Rielly, Edmonton’s Griffin Reinhart and Portland Derrick Pouliot – all 2012 draft eligibles – Severson more than made his case for being mentioned amongst the league’s elite blue liners.

Despite missing six weeks with a wrist injury, Severson more than doubled his previous season’s point production. In 56 games, Severson recorded 37 points – seven goals and 30 assists – while racking up 80 penalty minutes. In 2010-11, Severson was only able to amass 17 points in 67 games.

In his latest draft rankings, TSN’s Craig Button pegged Severson as his 41st overall prospect for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Yet, there is still talk that Severson – drawing comparisons to Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa – along with fellow defensemen Dalton Thrower (Saskatoon – WHL), Adam Pelech (Erie – OHL) and Slater Koekkoek (Peterborough – OHL) are being bandied about as late first round choices.

“Size separates me from a lot of the average size d-men,” said Severson, who first learned to skate – at age four – from his mother on an outdoor rink in Brandon, Manitoba. “I am also a pretty good skater, and possess a pretty good shot.”

Severson, who will turn 18 on August 7, began playing competitive hockey at age six. He would continue a pursuit towards his NHL dream for the next decade, competing in the neighboring Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League (SMHL). Thereafter, his options were plentiful – to pursue a college dream either in Western Canada or in the United States or continue onward and play junior hockey in the Western Hockey League.

Severson never thought twice about his decision.

“At the time, I didn’t think much about college,” said Severson. “I wanted to play in the WHL, and I was very fortunate that the team that chose me produces NHL defensemen like no other.”

After collecting 34 points – nine goals and 25 assists in 44 games in his final season in the SMHL, playing for the Yorkton Harvest, Severson was chosen in the ninth round (192nd overall) of the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft by Kelowna. The Rockets, who had previously produced two of Severson’s biggest NHL influences – Nashville’s Shea Weber (2001-05 in Kelowna) and Chicago’s Duncan Keith (2002-03 in Kelowna) – believed that they had drafted another late round gem in Severson.

“(Shea) Weber has a big shot and uses it a lot, while (Duncan) Keith has great hands,” said Severson, who along with his grandfather grew up a huge Steve Yzerman and Detroit Red Wings fan. In a house divided, Severson’s father grew up a huge Philadelphia Flyers fan, while his mother grew up a big Winnipeg Jets fan.

Steadily improving his play in his first two full seasons in Kelowna, Severson would help the Rockets reach the postseason in both seasons. Unfortunately, the Rockets would fall victim to a familiar foe in each of its playoff runs.

Back in 2010-11, after the Rockets had swept through the Prince George Cougars in the opening round of the WHL playoffs, Islanders prospect Nino Niederretter and the Portland Winterhawks would eliminate the Rockets in a tightly-contested, six-game series in the WHL semifinals. This past spring, the Winterhawks – behind Pouliot and Calgary Flames prospect Sven Bartschi – would once again eliminate the Rockets from the postseason. Portland swept past Kelowna in the opening round, outscoring the Rockets, 21-9.

In his 14 combined WHL postseason games, Severson has scored four goals and racked up 15 penalty minutes.

Furthermore, Severson’s play earned him multiple invitations to compete for Team Canada – both at the 2011 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge in Winnipeg and the 2012 Under-18 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic.

At the Under-17 tournament, Severson played alongside Pouliot on Team Canada-Western’s blue line. He recorded two assists in five games, as Team Canada-Western placed sixth overall. This past April at the Under-18 World Junior Championships, Severson played with both Dumba and Pelech on the Canadian blue line. He registered two assists in seven games, as Canada captured the bronze medal.

Nonetheless, while fully admitting to not viewing the countless NHL mock drafts online, Severson is fully ready for a life-altering change on the weekend of June 22-23 in Pittsburgh.

“My friends and family have looked at the mock drafts, and continue to encourage me each and every day,” said a humble Severson. “As far as I am concerned, I don’t look at them at all.

“Still, when draft day comes, it will be a crazy experience. I will be both anxious and excited at the time.”

Huska believes Severson’s demeanor will serve him well in Pittsburgh … and beyond.

“Damon is an even-keeled young man,” said Huska. “I don’t see him changing his approach on or off the ice.

“Damon’s strengths are his size and his ability to shoot the puck well. As far as timeline is concerned, I hope he is here (in Kelowna) through 19, and gets the necessary time needed on the minor league level.”

With the potential of being a solid shut-down defenseman on the NHL level, based on his physical stature, shot and toughness, does Severson’s profile fit the Islanders need like a hockey glove?

If selected, Severson would be excited to team up with a former Manitoban on the Islanders blue line.

“I watched Travis Hamonic play when he was in Brandon,” said Severson. “And as far as seeing him today, he really hasn’t lost the edge.

“The Islanders would be a really cool team to go to.”

The 2012 NHL Entry Draft is just 16 days away.