Tri-City Storm forward Wade Allison has never been one to pay too much attention to what’s being said about him, but he knew enough that he wasn’t considered much of an NHL Draft prospect to start the season.
Allison didn’t make the NHL Central Scouting’s first list in July. He wasn’t included among the nearly 50 USHL players listed in the NHL Central Scouting’s players to watch list in September or in November.
Allison wasn’t bothered by it.
“I don’t think I was projected to go at all,” Allison said recently. “I didn’t really look at it. I just do what I can do and control what I can control and hopefully the best works out. I was worried about myself and doing the best I can be and see where it goes from there.”
Where it went was Allison took himself from being an off-the-radar player to being a potential top-60 selection in the upcoming NHL Draft, which will be held in Buffalo, New York on Friday and Saturday.
Two things happened to Allison that elevated his season and his draft stock. One, he got healthy. Two, his confidence grew.
With his health, Allison had deep bone bruises in his ankles and wrist and was getting minor back spasms. He tried, but he just couldn’t do everything he wanted to. In time, his injuries subsided, and his play took off.
“His stock went up because his play improved drastically the second half of the season on account of fighting some injury trouble the first half,” one USHL scout said.
Going hand in hand with that was his confidence. Allison struggled early in the season. He had just one goal and one assist through 15 games. The production wasn’t there, and he was putting additional pressure on himself.
“Things were going pretty tough,” Allison said. “I was gripping the stick a little too tight. I just had to forget about points and start playing my style of game – worrying about how many board battles I won. Points started to come and things started going well.”
Allison scored a goal against Sioux Falls on Nov. 20 to give him three points on the season. A game later, he had an assist. Over the course of seven games, he picked up six points. Against Sioux City on Dec. 18, he scored a hat trick. After having just two points through 15 games, he produced 15 points over the next 17 games.
Allison’s game was clicking at the right time, too. He was selected to play in the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and was able to showcase himself in front of scouts and NHL teams in Omaha, Nebraska on Jan. 12. He took full advantage of the opportunity and scored a goal and dished out an assist en route to winning Team West MVP.
NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr was impressed. When the NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings were released the following week, Allison was placed as the 192nd prospect for the 2016 draft.
“His game kind of took off after the Top Prospects Game,” Marr said. “He was one of the guys my staff identified for me to pay attention to in that game. He does stand out, but he just stands out with the strength and determination to which he plays the game, the compete level that is there. He’s got that work ethic, that drive, that extra effort that makes a difference out there. I think it showed for him on the score sheet because he just didn’t quit on a play or quit on a puck. Those are the type of things that you take notice of.”
That work ethic is something a lot people talk about with Allison. One example of that is even though he played until May he immediately went back to training after his season was done.
“The season ended real late,” Allison said. “Guys had been working out for a month. I didn’t feel like I had an option to take a month off.”
Allison’s work ethic has a lot to do with his family and working on a farm in Manitoba.
“I just think it’s a family value,” Allison said. “I kind of grew up on the farm. My dad always taught me. He said hard work is a part of life. Nothing is given to you. You have to earn everything you get. It’s something I grew up on.”
Finally given a prospect ranking, Allison didn’t stop there. Following the Top Prospects Game, he elevated his play even higher. He produced points in 16 of the next 17 games and had 23 points over that span. In the playoffs, he kept it going and generated 16 points over 11 games. Over his final three games to help Tri-City to win the Clark Cup, Allison produced five goals and four assists.
“Going into the playoffs, he was kind of on a high,” Marr said. “Everyone likes to see that consistency, that it’s not a flash in the pan, that he can be one of these guys who can be dangerous every time he steps on the ice and has the puck on his stick. He’s one of those players who likes to have the puck on his stick. He’s got good skills and attributes, but it’s his intangibles.”
People took even further notice of those numbers when Allison tested well recently at the NHL Scouting Combine. He finished in the top 10 in bench press, vertical jump, wingate test and aerobic fitness.
Allison’s production and testing have only furthered people’s positive opinions about him. He was pushed to No. 62 in the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, and he’s been projected as high as going late first round in some mock drafts.
“He's really good in tight space,” one USHL scout said. “Good hands in tight, drives the net fearlessly and he's a beast on the boards. Big hitter. Not as good in open space, skating could use a little work, but he's definitely a second-round talent.”
Marr had a similar assessment.
“His skating is good,” Marr said. “He’s strong on his skates. He might not be the fastest at times, but he’s got competitive speed. When you match that up with effort, then it becomes more of an asset. The same with his skills. You know he scored a couple highlight reel goals there. I also think that reflected in his confidence and his confidence seemed to get better and better as the season went on.”
Even with such praise and favorable draft projections, Allison isn’t getting ahead of himself. He and his parents will attend the NHL Draft, and he’s just hoping to hear his named called at some point over the two days.
“I’m going with an open mind,” Allison said. “I’ve heard [the projections.] I don’t worry about it too much. That’s someone’s opinion. At the end of the day, they have no idea. It’s kind of out of my control. There’s not a whole lot I can control. I try not to expect anything.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
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