Sports

Tippett, Hague to lead latest crop of draft-eligible Steelheads

TORONTO — Owen Tippett and Nic Hague watched last season as five of their teammates found homes in the NHL.

Now eligible to be picked themselves, the Mississauga Steelheads duo hope their Ontario Hockey League club will again be prominent at the 2017 NHL draft.

Tippett is expected to have his name called in the first round while early projections have Hague as a second-round pick for next June's draft in Chicago.

"Kind of puts our team on the map and hopefully me and Tipper can continue that this year," said Hague. "I think team success will equal us individual success and players going in the draft. Definitely we want to keep our name on the board and want the Steelheads to be a dominant house in the OHL."

Alex Nylander led the Steelheads contingent at the 2016 draft going eighth overall to the Buffalo Sabres. Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian were respectively first- and second-round selections of the New Jersey Devils while Sean Day was a second-round pick of the New York Rangers and Austin Osmanski was a seventh-round pick of the Sabres.

Tippett, a six-foot-one, 181-pound forward is a pure goal-scorer. In his rookie season with the Steelheads last season he registered 15 goals and five assists in 48 games.

In addition to his accurate shot, Tippett is an excellent skater with great vision. Regarded as a quiet individual who keeps to himself off the ice, Tippett is all business at the rink.

"(He) plays against other team's top units and top defencemen each night so that defensive responsibility has to be there," said Mississauga general manager James Boyd. "His first tour in the league here was I think an eye opener for him. But he's taken it to heart and he's gotten better each day."

Tippet, a Peterborough, Ont., native, keeps a close eye on Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos for pointers. The 17-year-old also has his cousin, Lightning prospect Mitchell Stephens, to rely on for advice heading into a crucial year.

"I've been starting to talk to him more and more," Tippett said. "He just helps me, gives me little pointers here and there to improve my game. He's gone through it, he's two years older than I am so I'm obviously going to take (his advice) in to perspective and see if I can learn from him."

Following a full summer of training, Tippett has already noticed an improvement in his skating through the pre-season.

"I don't notice that I'm getting knocked off pucks as much," he said. "I'm not getting the puck taken off me as much. I just think being more steady on my feet and being stable."

Hague, a 6-5, 205-pound defenceman aims to model his game after Arizona Coyotes blue liner Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He already has the size, but needs to add strength in order to take his game to the next level.

The 17-year-old scored 14 goals and 10 assists in 66 regular season games during his rookie season.

"He's got to continue to get bigger, get stronger," Boyd said. "The co-ordination is going to come. He's still a rangey player. There's some positional stuff he really improved on last year."

A focal point of Hague's summer training was his skating, and after completing the pre-season schedule, the Kitchener, Ont. native has noticed a drastic improvement in his conditioning.

"I feel stronger. I don't feel like I'm huffing and puffing as much. Kind of feel more fluid out there," said Hague. "I want to come in every night and be that guy, the impact player and be noticeable for good work."

With the Steelheads Central Division title contenders, Tippett and Hague will play a role in just how successful Mississauga is in 2016-17.