Brett Moravec’s drive to the NHL has hit a speed-bump.
One guess is all you need to figure out just what that obstacle is these days.
“It really sucks,” said Moravec of the coronavirus pandemic shortening up his final audition ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft. “That long break off from the season was so hard.
“I think ‘robbed’ is a decent word for it,” continued the Alberta Junior Hockey League talent, when asked if he feels he’s been handcuffed the last year by COVID. “This season was pretty big for me. I was put on NHL Central Scouting, and I’m getting a few looks here and there. After playing a total of 10 games to start the year, we were done. And then we were done from November to March.
“It’s tough — in between those times, nobody’s really talking hockey and nobody’s really talking about you. So it’s hard to get your name out there and get more looks.”
Fortunately, the Calgary Canucks forward was graced with 24 games in a COVID-compressed AJHL campaign to make one final push at becoming a draftee come July.
Four games are in the books already, including two since the reboot last weekend — both of which were Canucks losses during which Moravec counted three assists as part of a team-high four points on the young season.
But there’s no time to waste looking back with the squeeze on to try and boost his draft value.
“Every game is super important,” said the 18-year-old Airdrie product. “With such a super short season and without playoffs, you can’t really make it up. The longer regular season gives you time to have maybe a bad game here or there. But with only 24 games, you have to be playing well every game, because there’s scouts watching you every game.”
New this weekend is the AJHL opening up its arenas to allow one scout from each NHL team per game.
So that’ll put a few eyeballs on Moravec and the Canucks for Friday’s visit to play the host Okotoks Oilers at Pason Centennial Arena (7 p.m., HockeyTV.com) and Sunday’s home tilt against the visiting Brooks Bandits at Max Bell Centre (2 p.m., HockeyTV.com).
“I need to play a team game, first and foremost,” said the 5-foot-10, 176-lb. Moravec, who was drafted by the Prince Albert Raiders in the fifth round — 97th overall — of the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft. “Communication helps my game a lot. I think effort, hard work and my hockey IQ are what’s going to set me apart. It’s every day in practice just getting better and working on things — honing my skills.”
Moravec’s finding his new coach, Brad Moran — the head man for the Canucks — is helping to improve his game.
“You can’t get down on yourself,” said Moravec, who was traded in the off-season to the Canucks by the Oilers after a five-goal, 13-point season in 2019-20. “That’s one of the things even before the year started that Brad told me, ‘It’s going to be a shortened year. You’re going to make bad plays. You’re going to have bad games. You’re going to have bad shifts. You just have to have a positive mindset that each shift is going to be different.’
“I love Brad as a coach. He’s played professional hockey for years, and he knows so much about the game — whether that’s on the ice or off the ice. He’ll tell me things on the ice, and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, wow, I didn’t think of it like that.’ Or off the ice like taking care of your body, and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s very important to do.'”
So far, so good then for Moravec after making the difficult decision to stay with the AJHL — despite the lengthy pause — rather than head south for high-school hockey in the United States.
“It was honestly a big discussion I had with my family,” said Moravec, after watching fellow draft-eligible junior Cole Sillinger leave the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers for the USHL earlier this season. “I was going to go down there (with teams in Green Bay, Wisc., and Des Moines, Iowa showing interest), but we decided to stick it out here in Alberta and see how it works out. It’s a big move, especially as a 17-year-old, to go all the way down to the States. It was an option.”
But he’s staying true to the path he’s been on since age 15, when he committed to play U.S. college hockey on scholarship with the NCAA’s Wisconsin Badgers.
“I might have to wait an extra year and see where that takes me,” said Moravec of COVID issues that have caused a glut of players in the NCAA ranks due to seniors being granted an extra year of eligibility. “For me, it’s not the end of the world, because I’m only 17 — I take one year off, play here and then go back. But for some guys, like one of my teammates, Nick Cherkowski — he’s a 20-year-old, and he was committed to a university, but they didn’t have enough money for his scholarship, so now he’s got to search somewhere else.
“For right now, I’m just focusing on the draft,” Moravec added. “I still have this year and possibly next year playing Junior A and then four years in Wisconsin. I’ve still got to play well. I’ve still got to show my stuff. And I’ve still got to win some games with this team. But hopefully, I’m a late — seventh- or seventh-round — draft pick. But they don’t ask where. I guess.
“The goal is to play an NHL game, whether I get drafted or not.”