by Josh Brown
KITCHENER — Mitchell Martin needed to work on his skating.
That was the message delivered by the Kitchener Rangers to their fourth-round pick from last year’s Ontario Hockey League draft after he attended the club’s rookie and main training camp.
“They said once my skating improves, I’ll be good enough to play in this league,” he said. “That has been my main focus since then.”
As it turns out, Martin is an overachiever.
Not only did he increase his explosiveness and edge work, but he upped his offensive game, special teams play and defensive duties.
He has been a go-to guy for the Rayside-Balfour Canadians where, at just 17-years-old, he leads the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League club in scoring with 21 goals and 33 assists through 47 games.
“Mitchell has flourished with all the opportunities he has been given,” said Canadians general manager Jeff Forsyth, a former regional scout for the Sudbury Wolves. “He’s like a sponge. He takes what you’re telling him and works with it.”
The surge helped the Sudbury native grab the attention of the Rangers, who signed him to a standard player agreement earlier this week. His addition gives the Blueshirts a healthy crop of youngsters heading into next season, when the club expects to lose five of its top six forwards.
“It’s definitely a huge weight off my shoulders,” said Martin. “I’ll feel more comfortable knowing that I’ve signed going into (next season’s) camp.”
There’s a lot hockey to play before that.
The Canadians are first in the NOJHL’s West Division with a record of 36-10-3-2 with just five games to go. Martin is hoping he can finish first in team scoring and top ten in the league (he was ninth overall heading into Thursday’s action).
He also wants to help his club capture the Dudley-Hewitt Cup as the Central Canada Jr. A champs and follow that up with a Centennial Cup national crown.
From there, it’s all Rangers.
“I want to get bigger, stronger and faster over the summer so I can make an impact next season,” said the six-foot-three, 185-pounder. “Kitchener has always been a prime destination ever since the draft.”
Forsyth uses the freshman in all situations with the Canadians and thinks he’ll be ready to make the leap to the OHL.
“Once he gets his feet going and his confidence at that level, I think his game will translate,” he said. “His playmaking ability and vision on the ice and tenacity on pucks make him a complete player.”
Martin is the fifth player signed by the Rangers out of last year’s draft joining current forwards Francesco Pinelli and Jesse Fishman and defenceman Simon Motew and prospect Matthew Sop, who currently plays for the Mississauga Chargers in the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
RANKINGS SLIP: The Rangers went from eighth to an honourable mention in this week’s Canadian Hockey League top ten rankings after going 1-2 on the weekend. The Ottawa 67’s are ranked first while the London Knights are eighth and the Flint Firebirds are 10th. The Saginaw Spirit also received an honourable mention.
JOYEUX NOEL: Rangers forward Serron Noel is heating up. He has four points in his past two games which is the same amount he had in his first 10. The winger has been nursing a back injury but has really started to assert himself physically in the past three contests.