Jamal Watson hopes to hear name called

While most 18-year olds will be preparing for graduation this June, Jamal Watson won’t be as he is focused on an even bigger event: the National Hockey League Draft.

The reason Jamal – a six-foot, 176-pound, right winger who scored 20 goals for the Lethbridge Hurricanes this past season – won’t be worrying about graduation is because he finished high school a year early.

Jamal reminisces about his first season as a 16-year old, and all the hard work it took to finish school early while living away from home for the first time.

“Balancing schoolwork on the bus was a little hard at times. You’d sometimes get home at 2:00a.m. and have school at 8:00a.m. the next day,” Said Jamal, as he remembered the days of long bus rides and early morning classes.

But, what that decision allowed Jamal to do, was focus all his efforts on the game he has loved since the first day he stepped on the ice in Northeast Calgary and began chasing the bigger kids around.

Even at an earlier age, Jamal’s parents Wayne and Norma-Jean could tell their son was hooked on the game and that he may have a future in the sport.

“Remember when he was young he was a much better skater than the other kids and he would dominate games and score at will,” said Wayne.

But it wasn’t until Pee Wee when both of his parents realized that he was still one of the better players in the province and he was still getting better.

Jamal Watson celebrates after scoring one of his 20 goals for the Lethbridge Hurricanes this season. Watson, 18, is currently the 137th ranked skater by NHL Central Scouting for the draft on June 30.

Photo courtesy of CanescastIn 2010, Jamal was eligible for the WHL Bantam Draft. After scoring 23 goals and 51 points in Bantam, the Lethbridge Hurricanes selected him with their fifth selection.

After spending another season playing Midget hockey against kids his own age, Jamal would take the most difficult step in his young hockey career. He moved away from home to join the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Norma-Jean still chuckles’ thinking about how hard that first year away from home was on not only herself and Wayne, but also on Jamal.

Along with the challenge of living away from home for the first time came the even bigger challenge of trying to learn how to play in a new league where the players are as much as four years older than him.

“When I was 16, trying to figure out how to play against guys that are technically men. You have to figure out what you can get a way with and find what made you special in Midget and try and apply that to your WHL game,” Said Jamal.

And while his first year didn’t produce much in the way of offence, Jamal did learn some valuable lessons that have some NHL teams contemplating calling his name on June 30, 2013.

Hurricanes general manager Brad Robson knows first hand what those NHL general managers are seeing, as he scouted and selected Jamal in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.

“The big thing that has always stood out with Jamal is his speed. He’s probably one of the best skaters in this years draft from the WHL,” said Robson.

Ross MacLean, head scout for the International Scouting Services, also believes that Jamal has potential to play in the NHL one day.

“He’s got that power-forward potential. He’s the kind of guy how can play in a variety of different ways and fill a variety of roles. He got that grittiness and he’s the guy you want fore-checking in the corner because he can bang and crash,” said MacLean.

Funny Maclean would mention the bang and crashing part of Jamal’s game, as Jamal tries to pattern his game after two NHL players who are known to do just that in Wayne Simmonds and Evander Kane.

And while there is still work to be done for the 137th ranked North American player to make it to the NHL. One thing that should be noted is Jamal Watson has never shied away from that in the past, so there is no reason to think he’ll shy away from it in the future.

 iesplen@cjournal.ca