ON THE HORIZON – Scott Mayfield, D, Denver U.

By Alan Avital

As Kyle Okposo stepped up to the podium this past June at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft to announce the Islanders’ fifth overall selection of Niagara (OHL) center Ryan Strome, some Islander fans cheered the pick. There were also some who were skeptical of Strome’s diminutive stature and believed his six-foot-five, 193-pound OHL teammate Dougie Hamilton would’ve been a more appropriate fit for a defense lacking that imposing presence.

Luckily, the Islanders’ patience to acquire that much-needed physical defender paid off 29 picks later, as 6-foot-4, 203-pound defenseman Scott Mayfield fell right into their laps in the beginning of the second round (34th overall).

Mayfield, who himself waited patiently with his family in the Xcel Energy stands, was excited about being selected by the Islanders.

“Once I got out of the first round, the pressure was off,” said Mayfield, who was projected by several scouting services to be drafted in the middle-to-late first round. “But when I met with the Islanders at the scouting combine, we had a great meeting. I couldn’t be happier than to be picked by them (Islanders).”

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, the 19-year old Mayfield quickly made his name known throughout amateur hockey by leaving the show-me state and Webster Groves High School to playing his final two high school seasons for the Youngstown (OH) Phantoms of the USHL.

He was named to the 2011 USHL All Star Team, after being named the Most Valuable Player at the 2010 World Junior A Challenge, where he anchored a defensive unit that surrendered a total of seven goals throughout the tournament. Those performances, along with his obvious physical stature, drew the attention of several collegiate programs, but Mayfield quickly narrowed his search down to two – Miami (OH) and the University of Denver.

His decision became simple from the get-go.

“I briefly talked to the Miami of Ohio, but I loved the winning tradition at Denver,” said Mayfield. “Also, my dad went to law school there and I felt very comfortable immediately.”

Denver head coach George Gwozdecky didn’t need convincing when he first laid his eyes on his new, prototypical shut-down defender.

“Scott is a physical body with a long reach,” said Gwozdecky, who has won seven NCAA championships as he enters his 18th season behind the Pioneer bench. “He is a tough, tough guy to play against. And most importantly, he has a little nasty in him.”

While Gwozdecky wouldn’t comment on an NHL comparison to Mayfield, the personable freshman wasn’t shy to say which two former St. Louis Blues players he had patterned his game after.

“I have always looked up to (current Philadelphia Flyer 6-foot-6 defenseman) Chris Pronger, but I really love watching (current Colorado Avalanche 6-foot-4 defenseman) Erik Johnson play” said Mayfield. “They are both big, and love to play the body.”

Mayfield’s off-season conditioning and play has already earned the trust of Gwozdecky, who has confidently played his freshman in all units on the ice.

“Scott is learning the game on this level, on the go,” said Gwozdecky, who holds the distinction of being the only coach in NCAA hockey to win a championship as a player (Wisconsin), an assistant coach (Michigan State) and a head coach. “He is very coachable. He’s like a sponge. There is no question that he will become one of those guys that no one will want to play against.”

Mayfield earned an assist in the team’s opening game upset at top-ranked Boston College.

“What a great experience it was to win at B.C.,” said Mayfield. “Going in as the underdog, the team really showed what we were made of.”

Mayfield would score his first collegiate goal on October 22 in the Pioneers’ 10-2 rout of Minnesota State. Coupled with his two points in the team’s first six games, Mayfield is tied for second on the team with a plus-4.

With an eye towards a professional future, Mayfield realizes that there is no timeline necessary to make that significant jump to Long Island.

“I realize that I must mature both on and off the ice,” said Mayfield, who hasn’t declared a major at Denver, but has his eye on majoring in hotel and restaurant management. “I know that I have to work on my footwork, and learn where to make the right play.”

Islander nation got their first glimpse of Mayfield at July’s Blue-White Scrimmage on Long Island, and the shut-down defender didn’t disappoint.

“I really enjoyed playing in front of the Islander fans,” said Mayfield, who is looking to join former Pioneer defenseman Matt Donovan and forward Rhett Rakhshani on the Island in the near future. “I tried to show them that I am a gritty defender, who loves playing the corners. I am physical, and I am not afraid to block shots.”

Mayfield, who currently plays at 205 pounds, believes that he could play comfortably at 225. That sight is surely unfamiliar territory for the present-day Islander fans continuously craving muscle on the back line.