A Player To Watch: Sawyer Russell

A Player to Watch: Sawyer Russell

“It doesn’t really matter where you play, if you’re good enough, people will find you.”

That’s usually what I say when people ask about the level in which young draft eligible prospects play and if scouts will recruit and eventually draft them.

I wish it was as simple as that, unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way.

In the case of Sawyer Russell and many others, the Minor Midget AAA ranks provide a fantastic opportunity for them to hone their skill, develop and still get noticed by scouts.

Sawyer Russell is a player to watch for a number of reasons, his skill and potential jump off the page every time he goes between the pipes.

There’s no question Russell has an outstanding foundation to which to build and a natural feel for the position.

The young goaltending prospect is the type of player you build around and has a very bright future in the game if he continues to develop and puts the time and effort into the process.

Like any up and coming goalie it takes time to develop and hone their skills and technique. Every organization no matter what level needs to provide their goaltenders with an opportunity and the proper time it takes to develop. You can have the mindset of throwing young players into the fire and see where that will take them or you can give them the opportunity, support and coach them.

You see that’s where the art of player development comes from.

Growth and development comes in many forms, we all know that especially when it comes to the goaltending position. Mistakes are going to be made, that’s just the reality of the position and being the last line of defence, but let’s hope every coach at that level see’s it that way, which clearly isn’t always the case. In some cases the almighty “W” still takes precedents over development with young netminders facing the brunt of the criticism.

All young backstops need an opportunity and the right environment in which to enhance their skill set. They need reps, refinement and tons of game experience.

They need to be challenged, not pushed or harshly criticized. They need direction and guidance, they need a goaltending specialist in their corner and they also need solid “game like” reps in practice to ensure they reach their full potential.

You see that’s exactly why Russell finds himself playing for the Saint John Knights of the NB/NS Minor Midget AAA Hockey League this year. 2021-2022 will be a monumental developmental year for every young prospect especially for goaltenders in a return to normalcy.

There’s no question the Saint John Vito’s brain trust wanted to give their goaltending tandem from a season ago, more opportunity to develop and play coming out of a tough Covid season. That’s no doubt why Russell was on the outside looking in at potentially cracking the Vito’s roster this season.

Russell is technically sound and is extremely composed and calm in the blue paint. The young 15 year old moves the puck efficiently and effectively. He has a tremendous upside when it comes to the position. Obviously, there’s room to grow and aspects of his game that he will have to continue to work on and refine to play at the next level and beyond.

He will have to get substantially quicker downlow. He will have to continue to work on his overall lateral mobility and agility. Russell is lacking some speed when it comes to going post to post. Unlike many young goalies, Russell is very strong. That’s a great advantage to have over other 1st year draft eligible goaltenders. His strength and power provides stability, now it’s all about enhancing his speed and quickness, but every other facet of his game is incredibly solid. Speed and quickness is one variable that ultimately holds some young netminders back. Sawyer Russell possesses the goods to be a solid netminder for years to come. Every time out he will progress and develop. Some nights will be longer than others, like it is for every young netminder, but it’s all about the end result, it’s all about progress not perfection.

Now more than ever, the hockey world is starting to come around to the fact that young netminders need time, experience, opportunity and a positive environment in which is grow to reach their maximum potential.

You can’t rush the process.

You can’t force things when it comes to goaltending. That’s exactly how the person and player gets ruined.

“It doesn’t really matter where you play, if you’re good enough, people will find you.”

Sawyer Russell can play, he’s good enough to get a fair shake and opportunity when it comes to draft day. The sky is the limit, sure there’s lots to work on, but the foundation is ever present.

It shouldn’t matter where he is playing right now, that should never be held against a player when it comes to projecting talent or potential, what matters most is trusting the process and believing in the trajectory he’s currently on.

Time will tell, but let’s never forget the role that player development, the impact of a positive environment and patience can have on young goaltending prospects.

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