Jordin Tootoo poised to become NHL draft-pick
The fiesty winger’s performance in CHL Top Prospects Game at the Calgary Saddledome may help his chances at the NHL’s summer draft.
IQALUIT — Junior hockey star Jordin Tootoo may be small, but all over Nunavut people are looking up to him.
That’s because he plays so big.
“I definitely play above my size and I think that’s because I have a big heart,” Tootoo said.
“My work ethic really helps me out.”
Originally from Rankin Inlet, the fiery 5-foot-9 right-winger is poised to become the first Inuk ó and, the first person from Nunavut — to play in the National Hockey League.
Tootoo’s hockey career can only be described as meteoric.
Just four short years ago, as a young teenager, he was playing in scrappy pick-up games at Rankin’s Inlet ramshackle rink.
Now, as a second-year standout with the junior league Brandon, Man., Wheat Kings, he’s skyrocketed from the Hudson Bay coast to the brink of the big leagues.
Tootoo turned 18 this month, making him eligible for this summer’s NHL draft. As of mid-January professional scouts were ranking him the 96th best junior player in North America. That positions him to be picked early in the fourth round.
But after a take-no-prisoners performance as the CHL Top Prospects Game at the Calgary Saddledome two weeks ago, he could be snapped up even earlier.
The Feb. 8 event brought together 40 of Canada’s best young hopefuls to show off their talent under the watchful eyes of recruiters from the NHL’s 30 franchises.
Tootoo’s team, coached by Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr, won 5-3.
But it was in the skills contest before the game where Tootoo really shone. Of the 40 prospects, Tootoo had the 10th fastest lap around the rink, the second quickest 150-foot dash, and the hardest shot ó a blazing slapshot that sent the puck rocketing at 96.1 miles-per-hour.
Tootoo said he was shocked that he could shoot a puck so hard.
“That was the first time ever to record my shot,” he said. “I knew I had a pretty hard shot but I thought I’d be in the average among the top prospects there.
“Hopefully I caught the eyes of a lot of scouts out there… I’m pretty sure it helped me out in the rankings.”
Tootoo said he doesn’t care which NHL team picks him ó as long as he gets chosen.
“Whoever takes me I’d just go and I’d be pretty pumped up about it,” he said. “I’m not to keen on being greedy with who I want to go to.”
Tootoo plays a brand of in-your-face hockey that belies his small size. He’s been described as a 180-pound fireplug: short, powerful and impossible to knock down.
He handles the puck with finesse but eagerly doles out crunching body checks.
His rough-and-tumble style comes from taking on his big brother and other older players in Rankin Inlet, Tootoo said.
“I always played with older guys. They were tough on me all the time and it just made me a stronger person.”
Tootoo’s brother, Terence, has also become something of a hockey star. As a 20-year-old he’s in his fourth year with the MJHL’s Opaskwayan Cree Nation Bli ard in The Pas, Man.
Terence has been trying to get his test scores up so he can go to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where the highly-rated Nanooks squad wants him to play Division I college hockey. Jordin opted for a different route. He left home at 14 to play bantam AAA hockey in Spruce Grove, Alta., near Edmonton. Then he joined Terence for a season with the Bli ard, where together they won the MJHL league championship.
In 1999, Jordin moved to Brandon to lace up his skates with the Western Hockey League’s Wheat Kings, who drafted him in the third round.
In his rookie season with the Wheat Kings, Tootoo tallied six goals and 10 assists, but piled up a massive 214 penalty minutes and saw long stretches of bench time due to several injuries, including a concussion.
He’s doing far better this year: his 15 goals and 25 assists make him one of the leading point-getters on the team. Many say he’s Brandon’s top all-around player.
Tootoo has made a name for himself in international competition as well. Last August, as the captain of Canada’s under-18 team, he led his teammates to the gold medal at the Four Nations Cup in Slovakia.
In doing so he became the first Nunavut player to represent Canada overseas. After the game, his jersey — number 22 — was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Tootoo’s proud to serve as a role model for other young Northern and aboriginal hockey hopefuls. But he warns them that it’s a tough path to tread. He’s had to sacrifice himself, he said, leaving his parents, relatives and friends behind in order to pursue a career on the ice.
His mother, Rose, seems to feel the sacrifice was worth it. Rinkside at the Top Prospects Game in Calgary, she cried when her son’s name was announced.
“I was ecstatic,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe it. I watched and said, ëHere’s my son.’ Tears just started trickling down.”