In an environment where pedigree often carries weight, such as early-round draft choices in the American Hockey League, those without it can often be overlooked.
There is no overlooking undrafted Condors rookie Cameron Hebig. Nine games into his professional career, Hebig is tied atop the Condors points standings with veteran Brad Malone (10) and is the AHL rookie leader in power play goals (five) and points (seven).
Not bad for a guy who was twice passed over in his junior draft years, then missed an entire season due to injury before finally finding his game in his over-age year with 90 points (41 goals, 49 assists) in 66 games.
“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” Hebig of Saskatoon, Saskatechewan said of his first month of pro play. “It’s a lot different (than junior). Faster, bigger, more skilled guys. I’m trying to play with confidence and get better each day.”
Looking to add young forwards to a pool that had pretty much dried up the last couple of years, the Edmonton Oilers signed Hebig to an entry level contract last December.
Condors coach Jay Woodcroft, who was an assistant with the Oilers last year, admitted he had no background on Hebig heading into his new job.
“I didn’t know anything about him coming into the season,” Woodcroft said. “I watched him in development camp and he stood out. In rookie camp, his skating and positional awareness stood out.”
But the question remained: could Hebig compete and be effective at the AHL level?
The early answer is a resounding yes.
His power play prowess has helped the Condors become the third-best team in the league, connecting 28.2 percent of the time.
“I’m getting an opportunity and trying to make the most of it,” Hebig, 21, said. “I”m the middle man right now and have a shot-first mentality: get shots through, get shots on net, go in and retrieve it (if not successful) and do it again.
“Getting an opportunity on the power play, you want to make the most of it. I want to keep my spot on it.”
While Hebig stands out on the power play, Woodcroft said he’s more than just a specialist.
“We revealed in training camp that, as a coaching staff, we would make decisions based on what we’re seeing (not pedigree),” Woodcroft said. “He is 100 percent every day. He has found a way to play a 200-foot game. He’s playing in every situation: power play, penalty kill, five-on-five. He’s a trusted player.”
Hebig said he’s taken what he learned in a trying junior career and is applying that as a pro.
“When I was 17, I didn’t play to my full potential and I think that motivated me to come back hard,” he said. “It showed how hard I have to work. I just used it as motivation.”
He put up better numbers the next year but again went undrafted. Then came his 19-year-old season, where he never played a game due to an injury in training camp.
“It was a tough year, sitting out,” he said. “But I put that behind me and just tried to took the the positive. I learned a lot and worked really hard to get back.”
When the Oilers came calling, he was ready to sign.
“My agent and I talked about it and I thought it was an awesome opportunity,” Hebig said. “I was so thankful but there’s a lot more work to do.”
Woodcroft said Hebig, who had a five-game point scoring streak snapped on Saturday night, is doing all he can to better himself.
“He’s a player that puts a lot of time and effort into growing his game every day,” Woodcroft said. “It could be the way he competes, the way he takes care of his body, the way he rests. He is hungry to play the game at the highest level and is giving himself every opportunity.”