Unwritten rule No. 1 in sports journalism is that there’s no cheering in the press box. Reporters are supposed to be neutral observers, delivering the news in the most objective manner possible. Therefore, any display of boosterism tends to be met with disapproving sidelong glances from colleagues along press row.
But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t at least a small part of me that was rooting for Bryce Kindopp last Saturday.
Saturday was the second and final day of the NHL draft, and I was hoping the 20-year-old Everett Silvertips winger would hear his name called. I knew it was a longshot, considering he had been passed over the previous two years he was eligible, and that he wasn’t listed high by any of the draft ranking services. But I had been told there was an outside chance, so when the last pick was made and Kindopp hadn’t been selected I let out a small regretful sigh.
The reason for my rooting interest in Kindopp wasn’t just because I thought he was deserving of being drafted. It was also because he’s a good example of the way players can grow during their time in Everett.
One of the best aspects of having a junior hockey team in town is we have a front-row seat for watching boys turn into young men. At its most extreme, we see these players arrive at their first training camp at 15, then depart following their overage seasons at 21. Those are formative years for anyone, let alone hockey players leaving home to hone their craft, and we get to witness it play itself out both on and off the ice as the Tips mature not just as players, but also as people.
One player who always stands out to me in his growth is former Tips defenseman Taylor Ellington, and it has nothing to do with his playing ability. When Ellington, who suited up for Everett from 2004-09, was 15 he joined the team for practice one day, and I thought it would be good to talk to him about the experience for a notebook item. When the interview commenced, Ellington literally gave me one-word answers to all may questions, and my immediate thought was, “Uh-oh, it’s going to be a long five years dealing with this kid.” But by the time he was an overager and team leader, he’d developed his media skills to the point where he was the first player I approached for perspective following the tragic death of teammate Jordan Mistelbacher, because I knew he was someone who would be able to handle that incredibly difficult responsibility in a mature and thoughtful manner.
Kindopp, in his own way, has showed this kind of growth since being drafted by Everett in 2014.
Kindopp arrived at his first training camp as a 15-year-old who was a high bantam pick (third round), but had a long way to go to become a contributing WHL player. He was a goal scorer at the bantam level, but his shot needed a lot of work before he was going to be able to score in the WHL. He didn’t make the team at 16, and in his 17-year-old season he tallied just 14 points, meaning he was nowhere near the NHL radar for his first year of draft eligibility.
But Kindopp has always been a player who contributes well beyond the box score, with his dedication to the defensive side of the game and willingness to slot into any role asked. He’s always been a player who can’t be evaluated based on one viewing, but needs to be seen at least a dozen times to truly understand the contributions he makes because he doesn’t have much flash to his game, but he plays the game right. And the past two seasons the offensive production followed, culminating in a 39-goal campaign in 2018-19.
It’s hard for players who have been passed over in the NHL draft to convince the scouts they deserve a second look, but not impossible. Radko Gudas is probably the most famous of those from Everett, as the defenseman came over from the Czech Republic at 19, wowed everyone with his hitting, was picked in the third round in 2010 after going unselected the previous two drafts, and has gone on to a lengthy NHL career. A more recent vintage is Connor Dewar, who didn’t get picked in 2017 when he was first eligible, but then went in the third round in 2018 after amassing 38 goals in his 18-year-old season.
I was hoping Kindopp would be the next in that line, but alas it wasn’t to be.
That doesn’t mean the pro dream is over for Kindopp or his fellow prospective overager, defenseman Jake Christiansen. Both longtime Everett vets were invited to NHL development camps in the wake of the draft — Kindopp with the Colorado Avalanche, Christiansen with the St. Louis Blues. Those camps wrap up Friday, and who knows, they may earn themselves invitations to training camp or even contracts based on their showings. Everett has had plenty of players over the years who weren’t drafted into the NHL, but earned NHL contracts during their overage seasons: Riley Armstrong, Shane Harper and Patrick Bajkov are some who come to mind. These are players weren’t finished products at 17, but continued to grow during their junior careers and became legitimate pro prospects.
So at Colorado’s development camp, I’m rooting less for Kindopp specifically and more that the Avalanche recognize what Kindopp can do, and therefore reward a player who’s continued to grow throughout the entirety of his junior career.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.