Big-goal scorer Werek setting big goals
Center looking to follow childhood friend Del Zotto with early NHL arrival
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Growing up in Stouffville, Ontario, young Ethan Werek didn't have to look far to see a future NHL player -- and potential NHL teammate -- skating around the local rinks.
Werek, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound center, was a year younger and played a different position than his friend, Michael Del Zotto, but both Stouffville residents were destined for great things in hockey. As they advanced through various levels, Werek could look to the defenseman Del Zotto as a role model.
Watching Del Zotto enjoy an outstanding first year with the Rangers in 2009-10 on his way to a berth on the NHL All-Rookie Team was truly inspiring for Werek, who would like nothing more than to follow in Del Zotto's footsteps by making the Rangers this fall rather than return to his junior team in Kingston, Ontario.
"I've known him my whole life," Werek, 19, said of Del Zotto. "It was great seeing what he did this year after going into training camp where he wasn't really sure if he was going to make the team or not. He put together an amazing training camp and an even better season. Looking at a guy like that really gives me something to strive for."
Werek spoke with Del Zotto over the past year to get a sense of what he could expect as a Ranger.
"I have talked to him a couple of times this year. He just said that the organization is such an amazing organization, and living in Manhattan was pretty incredible," Werek said. "So that's definitely something I have in my mind when I'm at the gym or on the ice. It's just kind of in the back of my mind as I think about what I'm working for."
While Del Zotto was turning heads in the NHL and earning his way on the NHL’s All Rookie Team, Werek was certainly garnering his own share of attention with the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs. In his first season after becoming the Rangers' second-round pick, No. 47 overall, in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Werek took his game up a notch and emerged as one of his league's more dangerous two-way players.
|Center Ethan Werek had a lot to smile about after the Rangers selected him 47th overall in Round 2 of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. At least one scouting service had listed Werek as a potential first-rounder.|
Werek, a Frontenacs alternate captain, was Kingston's first-round pick, No. 9 overall, in the 2007 OHL Priority Draft. To protect his NCAA eligibility, he returned to his Tier II junior team, the Stouffville Spirit, for the 2007-08 season. Werek had planned to enter Boston University in the fall of 2008, but a big year in Stouffville (70 points in 37 games) forced him to make a key decision heading into his NHL draft year.
Weighing the option of going to BU or getting the pro-lifestyle benefit of playing in the OHL, Werek chose to join the Frontenacs for the 2008-09 season. Benefiting from the tutelage of head coach Doug Gilmour, a two-time NHL All-Star, Werek rocketed up to NHL Central Scouting's No. 32 ranking of North American players eligible for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Other scouting services were also high on Werek at the end of his first major-junior season. He was 34th among all draft prospects by The Hockey News and a projected first-rounder, at No. 26 overall, by the International Scouting Service.
When it came time to make the No. 47 pick, the Rangers scouts were thrilled to see Werek still on the board. He rewarded their confidence in him almost immediately as one of the best players on the Blueshirts team at the Traverse City (Mich.) Prospects Tournament last September. He then went on to a remarkable second junior season.
Werek's potential was very evident at Traverse City, as he scored at least a point in all four of the Rangers' games and centered the top line for each of the first two.
Against Carolina’s prospects in the opener, Werek set up a Ryan Bourque third-period goal that cut the eventual champion Hurricanes' lead to 3-2. Against Atlanta, he set up Tomas Kundratek on the game-winner for a 2-1 lead at 7:48 of the middle period. Against Detroit, he score early in the second period to put the Rangers up 3-0, and against St. Louis, he delivered a big go-ahead goal at 12:57 of the second period in a game the Rangers went on to win.
What Werek really showed at Traverse City was not just an ability to score, but an uncanny knack for great play in the clutch. If there was one constant to his 2009-10 season in Kingston, it was that Werek was able to deliver big goals that helped turn the tide in the Frontenacs' favor.
Heroic moments were numerous, beginning with an Oct. 30 game against Belleville, when Werek scored with 1:26 left in regulation to force overtime. On Nov. 18 at Mississauga, he did it again with a game-tying goal at 11:31 of the third period and then delivered the winner on a power play at 2:57 of OT.
|As one of the highest-rated players in his draft year, Ethan Werek was invited to participate in the 2009 CHL Top Prospects Game. Werek's Team Cherry squad fell to Team Orr, which included a fellow 2009 Rangers draft pick in goaltender Scott Stajcer.|
"I think he's got that kind of scoring ability to be that kind of a scorer (in the NHL)," Clark said of Werek's heroics. "In the games I saw him play this year, he scored some really big goals."
On Dec. 4 against Mississauga, Werek set up the game-winning goal to give Kingston a 2-1 lead at 4:27 of the third period. On Jan. 10, he scored at 2:02 of the third period to tie up visiting Ottawa 3-3 and then set up the power-play winner at 2:40 of overtime.
He saved some his best clutch performances for late in the season, scoring a game-winner at 3:01 of overtime to complete a two-goal night at Belleville on Feb. 27, and scoring to force yet another OT with 45 seconds remaining in the third period of a March 7 home game vs. Mississauga.
"That's the real key time to score goals," said Werek. "The bigger the goal, the more fun it is. Whenever I have my chance, I try to put it in the net, and I just try to make the team better."
Werek said he wants to put himself in position to score such goals at the next level.
"Looking to the future as an NHL player, I think I'd be a hard-working player at both ends of the ice," Werek said. "I'll be physical. I won't lose battles and I'll really reliable at both ends of the ice. I also feel I can score and be that complete player."
His uncanny clutch abilities weren't limited to games that counted in the standings. Playing in his second straight OHL All-Star Game, Werek had a goal and two assists on his home rink at Kingston. That included the game-winning goal at 8:03 of the third period.
Three-point games weren’t unusual. In 2009-10, his 17 regular-season multi-point games included six three-point nights. From Nov. 6 to Nov. 20, Werek put together a seven-game scoring streak that saw him score 12 total points. During the stretch, he scored goals in four straight games and won OHL Player of the Week honors.
The season took a rough turn in a Feb. 5 home game against Guelph, when Werek hurt his knee for the first time and was out of the lineup until Feb. 26. He returned with a vengeance, however, scoring two goals and adding two assists in his first three games back from the injury.
"It was tough to go down with my knee injury. I felt our team was playing real good hockey and we were starting to climb up the standings," said Werek. "That injury took about three weeks to recover, but I kind of rushed back, and the last injury put me out for the season."
"Coming back into junior, my real goal was just to have success this season with the team and go far into the playoffs to get some playoff experience," said Werek. "Obviously, I would have liked to get into some more playoff games if I had not gotten injured. But I did get six games in and got my feet wet with regards to the playoffs, so it was an exciting time."
Werek said the MCL strain that took him out of the playoffs is now in his rear-view mirror now.
In his first OHL postseason, Werek had three goals and two assists in his six playoff games. His best performance came in Game 3 at home, when he scored on a power play at 18:55 of the first to tie the score at 1-1 and then set up another man-advantage goal for a 2-1 lead at 5:20 of the second.
Since the season ended, Werek has already received a big honor this summer, when he was among a select group of players chosen to try out for Canada's 2011 World Junior Championship team. He will attend the August camp in Newfoundland, where he will be one of 24 forwards competing for 13 roster slots.
In the short run, he is looking forward to next week's Rangers Prospect Development Camp.
“I just kind of want to come into New York and make a good statement that I'm back in shape, my knee's 100 percent and my on-ice has improved," he said. "So I just want to go there and really show the coaching staff and management that I'm a complete player and I can really do some things."
Having seen Del Zotto make the jump to the NHL just one year after being drafted, Werek is hopeful that he can begin his pro career as early as this fall.
"Being at Traverse City and the Rangers' main camp last year was a great experience," said Werek. "Looking at this year, my real goal is to be on the Rangers team. So I want to really do well at Traverse and have a real good main camp and compete hard."