Is pint-sized prospect another Derkatch?
Greg Harder, Leader-Post
Published: Saturday, August 23, 2008
LUMSDEN -- Jordan Weal looks up to Dale Derkatch, even though they're almost the same size.
At 5-foot-8, 159 pounds, Weal is among the smallest players in Regina Pats training camp, but he's also one of the most skilled. That scenario should ring a bell for the 5-foot-5 Derkatch, who conquered his own shortcomings to become the franchise's all-time leading scorer in the early '80s.
"I heard he was a phenomenal player and he did things no one else could do in that day and age," Weal said of his new head coach. "I've seen all the records that he has broken and it's pretty phenomenal. I was really excited (when he was hired) because he's a small, skilled guy, kind of like me. I can really learn a lot from him."
Derkatch became the Pats' head coach this summer after serving as the director of hockey development at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, where he also coached the Notre Dame Hounds to a Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League title last season.
Two years ago, Weal played under Derkatch with the Hounds' bantam team.
"He didn't coach me, but I knew him pretty well," explained Weal, a 16-year-old Vancouver product. "If I saw him around the rink, I'd say 'Hi.' He was the head of hockey so he had a lot of do with all the teams there."
Derkatch is now directly responsible for helping nurture Regina's latest phenom -- a possible franchise player in waiting. The head coach noted that his pupil has grown bigger and stronger since his time at Notre Dame, but he still has the same quickness, good hands and smarts.
"I don't think he will have any problem at all (competing against larger players)," said Derkatch. "There are two things that can usually be a problem for a small player: Lack of speed or lack of strength. You need one of them for sure and if you have both of them, you'll be fine. I think he has both of them. I don't know how much I'd have to do to help him."
Weal has been a scoring sensation throughout minor hockey, including last season when he posted Derkatch-like numbers en route to winning the B.C. Major Midget scoring title with 39 goals and 100 points in 40 games.
A standout in his WHL training-camp debut last fall, Weal was called up for seven games last season, including a four-game playoff audition while the Pats were shorthanded due to injuries and suspensions. That experience should help him as he looks to make an impact as a 16-year-old.
"I got a taste for what the speed is like," he said. "Playoffs is crunch time and everyone is going hard so I really got to see the top level of this league. That's when everyone starts to turn it up."
Weal is expected to do the same this season, but the Pats are cautious not to heap too much pressure on the youngster. His playing time will be dictated by performance, not potential.
"I am not adverse to playing young players if they can handle themselves," noted Derkatch. "Obviously we know that age does play a factor but it doesn't play a factor in terms of if you're a good hockey player and you're smart and you're skilled. Those things, you either have them or you don't, so you have to find a way to use those things."
With that in mind, Weal added about 15 pounds this summer while spending eight weeks working out under former Vancouver Canucks trainer Peter Twist. Although he expects to put up some points in Regina this season, Weal believes it will be "a learning year" in which he'll face more adversity than he has at any level so far.
"I always work hard during games," he noted. "I'm just going to have to step it up to another level this year and definitely be a lot smarter. I can't just go around a few guys and put the puck in the net.
"I try not to worry about (the expectations) too much," added Weal, who has been called -- fair or not -- a faster version of teammate Jordan Eberle. "It's great that I'm getting that comparison, but in the end I have to go out there and perform and help the team win. That's what I have to focus on."
© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008