Miles Gendron was courted by the Penticton Vees partly for his skating ability.
Gendron received a call from Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson in December and in May, the commitment was announced as they described him as a player with an “effortless skating stride and high-end skill.”
“In Miles, we have attracted a very high-end defenceman that I believe Penticton fans will liken to some of the skilled blue liners that have played here in the recent past,” said Harbinson in a team statement.
Gendron has a big adjustment to go through coming from the Rivers School program in Massachusetts, said Harbinson, but he has seen improvement.
“You can see the skill that Miles has and it’s showing everyday,” said Harbinson, following practice on Wednesday. “He is getting more confidence to show that skill.”
Gendron switched from forward to defence last season which his coach and former NHLer Shawn McEachern asked him to try as the team had injury problems. The 18-year-old said it was different and was hesitant, but ran with it.
“I really found a nice home back there with the D,” he said. “I like it. At first I wasn’t a fan of it and couldn’t wait to go back.”
During a tryout with the U.S. team for the Ivan Hlinka tournament, Gendron found himself back on the blueline and then discovered he was getting more scoring chances. He also said there is more time to see the play. A fan of New York Rangers’ defenceman Ryan McDonagh, Gendron describes himself as an offensive player with puck moving skills who uses his feet. Gendron likes to jump in the play, but has also been working on his defensive side. He has learned a lot under Harbinson and assistant coach Nick Fuher. Gendron’s ability to play on the blueline attracted the attention of McEachern’s former team, the Ottawa Senators, who drafted him 70th overall in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft.
“That’s just something you dream of everyday growing up as a hockey player,” said Gendron, who attended the draft with his family in Philadelphia. “Best day of my life. It was just unbelievable.”
Not expecting to be selected in the third round, Gendron said, “Hearing your name go is like no other feeling in the world. Complete body chill.”
His family went out for dinner to celebrate, then they had to hop in their vehicle and drive home from Philadelphia to Boston and he caught a flight to Ottawa the next day for their development camp.
“It was amazing just wearing the Ottawa Senators jersey,” said Gendron, who grew up watching the team while living in Toronto. “Being in the locker room and seeing the new history. Just so surreal to be there.”
Gendron accepted Harbinson’s courtship after conversations with those closest to him, including McEachern as well as family friend and TSN analyst Craig Button. The Ottawa Senators draft pick felt Penticton was the place to go
“They told me out here is an amazing place to be,” he said. “I just love it since I’ve been here.”
Among the things Gendron heard about is Penticton’s rich history, winning tradition and how good a coach Harbinson is.
In the early stages of camp, Gendron has been paired with Dante Fabbro.
“Dante is an awesome kid. Sees the ice so well,” said Gendron, joking that the 16-year-old looks older than him.
Harbinson likes the pairing early as they both skate well, which he said is important, especially with the ability to move the puck. The Vees feel that is a critical part of the game while defending.
Vees fans may get a chance to see the pair in action this Friday when the team hosts the West Kelowna Warriors in the South Okanagan Events Centre at 7 p.m. The focus early in camp has been getting the new faces to learn the system. The coaching staff wants the players to understand the level and intensity they feel is needed to play.
“I think the guys have figured that out pretty quickly. That’s the one thing we are very happy with,” said Harbinson. “I think our first few practices of the year have been very crisp.”
Harbinson has also seen chemistry build with veterans helping when needed.
Vees notes: Veteran forward Steen Cooper was named an assistant captain.
“It’s pretty surreal. I wanted to take on a leadership role this year,” said Cooper, who wore an A with his hometown Cowichan Valley Capitals. “They brought in a lot of young guys. We have 12 rookies this year. I get a great opportunity to show these guys the ropes. Give them some advice going forward.” Cooper intends to lead by example on the ice, helping them be one of the hardest working teams in the BCHL. Off the ice he wants to be more vocal in the room. “It’s not just hockey related. It’s personal issues.”
Cooper said he doesn’t shy away from being vocal.
“I’m pretty open in the room. I’m a pretty loud guy I guess in the room.”
The Canadian Junior Hockey League released its pre-season top 20 rankings based upon a variety of factors which includes the league in which the teams belong to, last season’s results in regular season and playoffs as well as initial recruiting efforts. The Vees are ranked second. The first in-season Top 20 CJHL Weekly Rankings will be announced on Sept. 30.