Lukas Cormier is closing in on his lifelong dream.
The Ste-Marie-de-Kent, New Brunswick product and Charlottetown Islanders star understands this season will be like no other.
“I’m trying not to think about the upcoming NHL draft too much,” confessed the soft-spoken 17-year-old.
“My main focus is to be the best version of myself every time I step on the ice and keep working hard.”
There’s no denying Lukas Cormier’s skill and natural talent, but it’s his drive and determination that makes his journey in the game so unique.
From the backyard rink to the cozy, but cold confines of his basement Lukas Cormier’s subtle beginnings in the game and the dream to play at hockey’s highest level has always been built on the foundation of hard work and dedication.
“Being drafted and playing in the NHL has been a dream of mine from a very young age, it would mean a lot, but I need to keep working hard, on and off the ice.”
The diminutive offensively gifted rearguard had a fantastic summer of training heading into what some players call the most important and stressful year of their lives.
“I worked hard in the gym this summer trying to improve my upper and lower body strength, to improve my first three strides and to get my feet quicker,” admitted Cormier.
All the hard work and extra time in the gym and on the ice has already paid great dividends.
Cormier cracked Team Canada’s U-18’s roster and had a very solid Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament helping Canada capture the Silver Medal.
Cormier has elected to stay close to home the past few off-seasons and train with his former Bantam AAA coach, eighteen year pro Derek Cormier and Strength and Conditioning guru Rick Legere.
Derek Cormier has witnessed Cormier’s progression and development from a very young age.
“Lukas’ progression since Bantam and his ability to excel at every level since that point is due to his compete level and drive,” stressed Cormier.
“Lukas’ ability to read the game and protect himself by gaining great body position in order to use his skating and edges to create time and space for himself is what truly separates him from others.”
“I know Lukas will continue to work on all aspects of his game.”
“Lukas’ strengths as a player outweigh his weaknesses and I believe he will have success.”
“It’s a big season for him, but I’m sure he will have another great year,” Cormier said.
“It was great,” the Isles defencemen said of his off-season training under Legere and Cormier.
“Derek runs some really great practices, both Derek and Rick’s program has really helped me.”
Cormier understood the significance of being fresh and sharp heading into Team Canada’s U-18’s tryouts and Islanders Camp and thoroughly enjoyed the diversity of the training regime. “Rick is just starting out and is already very well known. We do a lot of different things like yoga and track.”
Islanders General Manager and Head Coach Jim Hulton had a front row seat to one of the most productive rookie seasons from a defencemen in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in quite sometime.
So what’s the veteran bench boss expecting from his young star defencemen this season under the pressure cooker of his draft year?
“Like any young player, Lukas needs to continue to add layers to his game,” Hulton said.
“Lukas will focus on a consistent defensive gap and truly learn to use his feet as a defensive weapon, he will also learn to adjust to increased minutes played by being “smart aggressive” on offence.”
Hulton has already seen an improvement in Cormier’s passing ability during the preseason.
“He snaps it like a pro now and his slapshot velocity has increased as well,” admitted Hulton.
Cormier had a stellar rookie campaign scoring 16 goals and 25 assists in 69 games.
Perhaps the most telling stat of them all is the young defender’s plus/minus.
Cormier was a whopping +24 on the season.
One-dimensional player, I don’t think so.
So how does Hulton see Cormier’s game translating to the next level?
“In terms of the pro game, he is in the mold of Torey Krug, undersized, but hyper skilled, competitive and plays bigger than his size.”
“Lukas has the ability to control a game,” stressed Hulton.
Hulton has coached at every level including the National Hockey League so he’s obviously seen a multitude of elite players throughout his career, that’s what makes his assessment of Cormier’s rookie season truly extraordinary.
“Easily the most pleasant surprise of Lukas’ game last season was the extent of his competitive fire,” admitted Hulton.
“We knew the skill package, but didn’t fully appreciate how hard he competed on a daily basis.”
Cormier is quick to credit Hulton and the entire Islander organization for his success. “I have nothing but good things to say about the organization. It was a great year last year and hopefully it will be even better this year.”
“Playing with PO Joseph at the start of last season really helped my transition to the Q.”
The hockey world now more than ever appreciates skill, speed and creativity, but undoubtedly still values size. The game has drastically changed, but Cormier is the perfect example of a player trying to find his niche like many others at the pro level.
“Cormier is a Samuel Girard type player,” said one longtime NHL Scout.
“He’s smaller in stature, but quick, elusive, smart, offensively creative and slippery.”
“His puck game is structured, but leans toward creative. His edgework is keen, providing good mobility,” added the veteran scout.
“Cormier’s puck skills are subtle, he’s not a stickhandling wizard, but he looks off people, and gains time and space with his feet which allows him to make solid reads.”
“Cormier certainly has a lot of today’s NHL defenceman awareness and maneuverability. He definitely has a chance for sure, it’s a big year for him.”
Lukas Cormier maybe closing in on his lifelong dream, but the talented transitional defencemen will never forget the cornerstone and foundation of his journey in the game, hard work.