In the spring of 2010, Tyson Baillie waited until the 53rd overall pick for his name to be called at the Western Hockey League bantam draft.
What many scouts perceived as less-than-average skating abilities deterred teams from taking a chance on the Fort Saskatchewan, AB native.
Not so for the Kelowna Rockets, who scooped up Baillie in the third round.
Rockets’ assistant GM Lorne Frey said the young forward simply had too many attributes to overlook.
“He’s always put up good numbers, at whatever level he’s played at,” Frey said of Baillie. “The thing about Tyson is his compete level, he’s always been a great competitor, and his skill level is so good, too.
“The puck just seemed to follow him everywhere,” added Frey. “Everybody questioned his skating, but everything else he brings outweighs that by far…and actually his skating has continued to get better.”
By any standard, Baillie has had a stellar WHL career, with 104 goals and 238 points in four-plus seasons in Kelowna.
This fall, the over-age centre is off to another strong start, leading the Rockets with 23 points in 13 games.
Whatever deficiencies Baillie’s game may have, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound has more than compensated with his innate desire to succeed.
“I’m not the biggest guy or the best skater, but I think I just want it more than most people,” Baillie said. “I have a passion for the game, and as long as I’m working hard and going to the dirty areas, that’s the key. I just love playing.
“It keeps me motivated,” Baillie added, “to be seen as too slow or small…I’m happy to silence the critics if I can.”
New Rockets head coach Brad Ralph hasn’t seen Baillie’s entire body or work—which began as a 15-year-old in 2011-12—but certainly likes what he’s witnessed thus far in 2015-16.
“He’s got that sixth sense, he just knows where to be on the ice and is one of the best at putting himself in positions to score,” Ralph said. “He’s a true competitor, he’s talented and constantly challenges himself to get better. And he knows he can even be better.”
One skill that stands above the vast majority of other players is Baillie’s knack for scoring important goals.
He netted five game winners last spring during his team’s postseason march to the WHL championship.
Lorne Frey said it’s further evidence of Baillie’s value to the Rockets.
“He’s been a great junior, he’s scored more big goals for us than anybody and he seems to play his best when the games are the biggest,” said Frey. “He has skills and smarts, his compete level is second to none and he has great leadership ability. You can’t ask for much more from one player.”
Rocket Shots…The Rockets (9-4-0-0) are on a three-game winning streak as they play a pair of home games this weekend. On Friday, Kelowna faces the Prince George Cougars for the fourth time this season.
On Saturday, the Rockets will host the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Face off both nights at Prospera Place is 7:05.