The road to his first season of pro hockey hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Hudson Elynuik, but that doesn’t mean the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t convinced they might have found a gem in the big Newfoundland Growlers rookie.
The 21-year-old pivot from Calgary was averaging almost a point-per-game (seven goals, 15 assists) through 24 starts entering last night’s game against the Brampton Beast at Mile One Centre, after missing 11 since suffering a neck injury at the tail end of training camp. Then there were another nine games lost in December and early January following a flareup.
“Whenever you’re injured,” Elynuik said, “it’s never easy to jump in and pick up where you left off.
“But so far it’s been a very good start to my pro career.”
For Elynuik, where exactly he was turning pro was, for a while, up in the air.
"He’s got the ability to be a great hockey player, the potential to play in the NHL some day. But he’s super raw.” — John Snowden, Newfoundland Growlers' head coach
A third-round draft pick, 74th overall, of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2016 following his third full season in the Western Hockey League, the Hurricanes opted not to sign the 6-5 centreman.
Clewing up his junior career in Spokane, Wash., last season, where he scored 31 times and totaled 86 points, Elynuik was invited to the Los Angeles Kings’ development camp.
By that time, the Leafs were kicking the tires, too, no doubt prompted by their head of amateur scouting, Tom Speltz, who had been Spokane’s general manager.
Whether or not it was that relationship that made the difference, who knows, but Elynuik elected to sign with the Leafs, or more to the point, an American Hockey League contract with the Toronto Marlies.
Elynuik might be considered a late bloomer, someone who played five full seasons of junior hockey. And through his first two years in the WHL, in Spokane and prior to that, the Kootenay Ice, he had managed only five goals.
“Elly’s raw, real raw,” said Growlers’ coach John Snowden. “But he’s got all the tools — he’s big, he can skate, he’s willing to embrace the grind, he sticks his nose in there, he’s got good offensive skills, he’s willing to block a shot.
“He’s got the ability to be a great hockey player,” Snowden said, “the potential to play in the NHL some day. But he’s super raw.”
Hence, he’s in the ECHL and Newfoundland, which Toronto eventually envisions being an entry point into the organization for graduating juniors and college players, eventually moving their way up to the Marlies and, for some, the Maple Leafs.
Elynuik has been hot of late with goals in three straight games before being shut out by the Worcester Railers Saturday night. In fairness to him, none of the Growlers were particularly good that game, losing 5-1.
“Elly’s got to get a little stronger,” Snowden said, “and fine tune his game to get up to the AHL, and one day get that chance at playing in the NHL, which I think he has the ability to do.
“Elly’s got a long stride, and his straightaway speed is that good. And he’s willing to play that power forward role which is probably a dying breed in today’s game. There are not that many Ryane Clowes out there who play a hard, heavy game, guys you know that when you play against them, you’re in for a battle.
“Elly could be one of those guys. And on top of that, he also has the skill to make plays and produce.”
Elynuik had an idea of what he was getting into in this, his first season of pro hockey. In fact, he’s gotten a lot of sage advice from the first day he strapped on a pair of skates.
His father is Pat Elynuik, who enjoyed a fine eight-year NHL career with Winnipeg, Washington, Tampa Bay and Ottawa.
The elder Elynuik, drafted eighth overall in 1986, put together four straight seasons of 74, 65, 50 and 57 points in the NHL.
He retired from hockey following the 1995-96 campaign. Hudson was born in December 1997.
“My two older brothers got to see him play,” Hudson said. “But I do remember always being in the Calgary dressing room — we had season tickets to the Flames — and meeting a lot of cool NHL guys like Wendel Clark and Mike Modano.”
St. John’s has always had a few sons of ex-NHLers playing on the Leafs or IceCaps. The first was Ryan Sittler, who played briefly for the St. John’s Maple Leafs in 1996, and is the son of the legendary former Leafs captain Darryl Sittler. Former IceCap Adam Lowry’s father, Dave, played over 1,000 games in the NHL, as did Philip Samuelsson’s father, Ulf. And Keegan Lowe’s father, Kevin, was a legendary Edmonton Oiler.
The younger Elynuik says his father has always been his hero and source of inspiration. He’s lucky, he says, to have a dad who played in the NHL, and no, there’s no added pressure when the old man had a starring role in the show.
“Ultimately, I’m trying to make a name for myself,” the younger Elynuik said. “People can say he played in the NHL, had a great career, but it’s up to me to create my own path to the NHL.
“That said, I’m proud of who I am, proud of my last name. I have a lot of pride carrying that name on my back.”