After a strong start to the NOJHL season with the Rayside-Balfour Canadians, Iroquois Falls native Chad Denault has made the jump to the OHL’s Petes.
Taken by Peterborough in the third round, 49th overall, of the 2016 OHL Priority Selection, the 6-1, 174-pound winger turned some heads in training camp before being assigned to the Canadians.
“He had a very good training camp with us,” said Petes general manager Michael Oke.
“It wasn’t necessarily something he didn’t do at training camp (that resulted in him not making the team to start the season). Starting out, early in the season, with our roster, we had a fair number of returning players and we just thought it would be in his best interest for his development to be in a situation where we knew he was going to play and play a lot.
“That situation was available to him playing for Rayside-Balfour. We had a very good meeting with him at the end of training camp and told him he had demonstrated he is a good player, but that it would be in his best interest early in the season to be on a team where he was going to play lots, play in all situations and continue to develop his skills.”
Playing for the Sudbury Minor Midget Wolves, of the Great North Midget League, last season, Denault caught the attention of a number of OHL squads.
“Watching over the course of his Minor Midget year, he demonstrated he was one of the better players, not only on his team, but over all in the 2000 birth year age group,” Oke said.
“He is a big, strong, powerful young player, who has definitely displayed a knack for contributing offensively and at the same time he demonstrated he was willing to compete and battle defensively.
“During our evaluations, he appeared to be a solid player who could contribute at both ends of the rink.”
After being assigned to the Canadians, Denault (17, 6-7-13, 14) made a smooth adjustment to Junior ‘A’ hockey, playing on a line with Bradey Johnson and Evan Krassey.
“We watched him early in the year and he was doing some of the things we noticed last year,” Oke said.
“Offensively, he got off to a real good start, especially in light of the fact he was a 16 year old playing against players who three or four years older than him.
“He demonstrated he could play at that level, which we knew, and we did say that if the opportunity to have him come in and play some games this year presented itself, then we would look to take advantage of that.”
A combination of injuries and having other players away at international events created an opening and the Petes inked Denault to a standard player agreement last week.
“We knew that Chad was going to be able to step into our lineup and be ready to play,” Oke said.
“He has fit in well and he hasn’t looked out of place. At every level, the game gets a little quicker and the players you play against get a little stronger. Those are the two things I think he is contending with right now. The players he is going into the corners to battle against are a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger and they have a little bit more experience, but he has definitely demonstrated in his first couple of games he is defensively up for the challenge.
“Moving forward, I think he is going to demonstrate that he is going to be a good player in this league.”
Denault made his OHL debut on home ice at the Peterborough Memorial Centre Thursday night when the Petes played host to the Flint Firebirds, wearing No. 22.
Skating out onto the same ice surface that was once home to legendary players such as Steve Yzerman, Chris Pronger, Bob Gainey and Larry Murphy, to name just a few, was a special moment for a player who just a few years ago was taking regular shifts with the Timmins Eagles, of the Northern Ontario Bantam ‘AAA’ Hockey League.
“Obviously, the inner kid inside of me was really excited,” he said.
“It was a dream come true, but I tried to stay calm, keep things simple and move with the flow … just play my game.
“It’s amazing. You can feel it as soon as you walk into the rink. You look at all the pictures on the walls of the hall of famers, the big names like Yzerman and Pronger, all those guys who started their careers here.
“The Petes, as an organization, are one of the oldest teams in the OHL and they still play in the same rink and you can find that atmosphere and than history all throughout it. It’s awesome.”
Denault’s mom, Doris, and his dad, Jeff, made the trip down to Peterborough to take in his first OHL game.
“It was a long drive for them, but they were obviously pretty pumped,” he said.
“They told me there is nothing like being there for that first game.”
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