Chase Lang is doing his best to ignore the enormity of this season.
As a 17-year-old Western Hockey League player, the NHL draft is always looming at the end of the campaign.
But the Nanaimo product is more concerned about carving out a bigger role as a two-way centre with the Calgary Hitmen with their season starting tonight in Edmonton against the provincial rival Oil Kings.
"I'm just trying to work my way up in the lineup and prove to the coaches that I deserve some ice time and just show them what I can do and do the best job that I can," he said.
To be fair, Lang has a long way to go to be considered a top prospect, but it is certainly realistic for him to work his way into contention as a mid-to-late round pick.
His rookie season in Cowtown was a difficult one.
The six-foot-one, 185-pounder was used to being a top-line forward. He was the first pick in the fifth round (89th overall) by the Hitmen in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.
In his only season with the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League's North Island Silvertips in 2011-12, he led them with 61 points (29 goals, 32 assists) in 40 games, finishing fourth in the league overall.
But his rookie season in the WHL looked nothing like what he was used to.
He found himself battling just to get into the lineup, and when he did crack the game day roster, he was on the fourth line seeing limited ice time.
It took him almost 20 games to even record his first point, and finished with just 11 (4-7-11) in 44 games.
"It was definitely tough," said Lang. "But after Christmas I stated getting a little bit more comfortable and I started to produce a tiny bit. But not having a lot of ice time and having to fight for your ice and penalty killing, and just finding ways to get into the lineup was a lot tougher."
But he has taken the situation on as a learning experience.
Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson has been impressed with his attitude through a difficult situation.
"To his credit he was one of our hardest working guys every day and once he got an opportunity, that hard work paid off," said Williams. "I thought he made great strides and was probably our most improved player in the second half."
Lang worked hard this summer with Jas Randhawa of JR Sport Performance in Nanaimo to get bigger and stronger for this season.
Despite not getting a ton of ice time last year, he has still seen improvements in his game.
He is learning the intricacies of playing centre in the WHL, and has a few pretty good teachers, including assistant coach and former Calgary Flames centreman Joel Otto.
"I feel I'm a lot stronger as a player. .. definitely my speed and strength has developed a lot and I think my skill has gotten a lot better too," said Lang.
His goals for this year are simple, he just wants to earn a bigger role with the club and help them be successful.
Williamson says they are hoping to find more ways to use him as well.
"Where I see him ending up, eventually, is playing in a lot of different situations," said Williamson. "We do see some offensive skill and maybe he'll have a chance to play an offensive role and some power play. But for now, he still needs to continue to develop the defensive side of the game and build that knowledge and that trust from myself."
Still, at the end of the road this year, there is the NHL draft. Top prospects Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad are likely to be the top two picks this year. But hard working two-way centres are always in demand, particularly if they have some offensive upside.
Williamson is well versed in Lang's willingness to put the hours in to improve and get better and says he very well could work his way on to a few teams' draft boards in the later rounds.
"He's got a good skill set. A lot of it will depend on where scouts see his progression," said Williamson. "If they can envision him continuing to improve and get bigger and stronger, then he'll be a guy they will look at closer."
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