Growing up and playing for your home town Ontario Hockey League team is something many young hockey prospects surely dream of.
North York Rangers centreman Luke Kutkevicius is no different, except his dream is closer to reality after he was drafted in the second round — 25th overall — by the Mississauga Steelheads in the 2014 OHL draft earlier this year.
“It was a great feeling,” Kutkevicius said. “Growing up in Toronto, Mississauga is so close, it’s not too far of a drive. It’s a good environment to be drafted by Mississauga.”
Aside from playing for his local major junior team, Kutkevicius is also excited by the prospect of playing with some of his friends, including centreman Michael McLeod, who the Steelheads drafted fifth overall in the 2014 OHL draft.
The 16-year-old Kutkevicius was with the Steelheads for their training camp last month and played in their blue vs. white scrimmages.
“It’s phenomenal hockey up there,” he said. “[There are] lots of big bodies, lots of skill. It’s great.”
However, he was returned to the OJHL at the end of camp.
North York head coach Mark Joslin was unsure whether he would have Kutkevicius in the line up this year but was pleased to learn that he would head to the OJHL to begin the season.
“We’re lucky to have him,” he said. “He has a ton of upside and he has a bright future ahead of him.”
While Kutkevicius has been drafted, he still hasn’t decided if he’ll go the OHL or the NCAA route. He calls the impending decision “tough.”
“There’s some good schools, good teams in the OHL too,” he said. “I like to play good hockey against good players and with good players. [It’s] better [for my] development. Whichever one will help me develop most will probably be my choice.”
Sean Lafortune of www.thescout.ca projects Kutkevicius to be “a high energy skilled forward who can slot into a team’s top six forward core.”
He also describes him as “an energetic forward equipped with soft hands, good offensive instincts and a nice touch around the net. [He] generates a sharp start up burst and accelerates to top gear within a few powerful strides.
“Not the smoothest technique but possesses deceiving top speed. [He] competes hard, drives bravely to the net and will stick up for himself.”
Through six games of his debut OJHL season, Kutkevicius has an assist and two penalty minutes.
“I’m trying to learn the higher leagues, playing against older guys, bigger players and trying to do your role,” said the 6-foot-1, 155 pound forward. “Down in minor you kind of get a bit of leeway — here you’ve got to do what the coach tells you. Listen to coach and you’ll be good.”
Although he hasn’t had an explosive start to the season, Joslin has no doubt that Kutkevicius will have a very good year.
“He puts big expectations on himself,” Joslin said. “He’s struggled a little bit offensively but it’s a long season and I’ll know he’ll break out of that and contribute.”