It's not often you hear a player who scores 42 goals and leads his team in both goals and points in his draft year referred to as "flying under the radar", but that's an excellent description of what Swift Current Bronco LW Jake DeBrusk, son of former NHLer Louie, has been doing this season.
The 18-year-old from Edmonton is ranked in the mid-to-low 20s by most scouting services, and despite tearing up the WHL, perhaps his position on a relatively weak Swift Current team has meant some have overlooked him. Or perhaps the obsession with size in the modern NHL has played a role in the eyes of others.
But the mistake they're making in not taking major notice of the 6', 176lb winger could come back to haunt them (and by extension, the teams that do the same) massively over the next few years. Here's why.
DeBrusk is nothing like his father Louie, a rock 'em sock 'em grinder who seemed to spend a lot of his time either crashing into the opposition or punching them in the face during his 400-game NHL career, most of it spent in Edmonton.
He's a quick two-way forward with a golden touch in front of the net-one who prefers to make the highlight reel thanks to lighting the lamp rather than lighting up someone else's face.
His stats bear this out:
42 goals in his draft-eligible year is good for 6th in the WHL (a league which has already-drafted offensive powerhouses like Oliver Bjorkstrand and Nic Petan ahead of him) and the most goals a player from the WHL has ever scored in his first draft-eligible year.
Just to reiterate that, DeBrusk has already set a WHL record this season. And yet he's still barely making a whisper on most team's draft boards at the upper end of the spectrum.
How has he done it?
DeBrusk plays with a joy and energy that is the kind of thing fans love. He's fast and strong for his size, a very good skater and has a work-rate that's...well, if not unparalleled then at least very rarely matched by his competitors. His game is based on positioning, timing and intelligence with a side order of fearlessness-he'll go wherever is necessary to win the puck and give himself and his team the best chance of putting it in the net.
Scouts have already compared his style of play to none other than Daniel Sedin...and that's a very lofty comparison to make indeed. But it's also accurate.
DeBrusk's whole attacking arsenal relies on cunning and guile coupled with a killer instinct of a shot-on first out-thinking the other team, then doing exactly what's needed at exactly the right time, whether that be tying up a defender in front of the net in a physical battle before pulling away at just the right moment to receive a pass or get his stick on a shot from the point, or timing a pass perfectly to hit a team-mate in the best position to score.
He's also got a great, sneaky-hard and accurate wristshot that he can release incredibly quickly-one that's served him beautifully this season when it comes to pouncing on split-second opportunities in front of the net.
He's also responsible in his own zone, having played a system that emphasises it strongly in Swift Current.
A two-way winger with a great work-rate and scoring ability to burn? Where's the possible downside?
Well, DeBrusk himself admits that he knows he'll have to get bigger and make plays faster to have a chance at a true NHL career, and expects himself that he's probably several years away from making an NHL impact...both arguments that mirror those of the scouts who have rank him as low as they have.
However, the potential in DeBrusk's 6' frame is so major, it practically radiates out of him every single time he steps on the ice. Not in a "this kid is the finished article" kind of way, but in a "if you can't draft a sure thing right now, then this kid is the next best thing".
For any GM either picking in the late reaches of the first or early in the 2nd (although DeBrusk falling that far would be something of a miracle) the Edmontonian with the NHL father could be one of the safest and smartest picks out there.
This kid has all the tools to be an unheralded sleeper NHL star. He just needs a team willing to give him the year or two necessary to hone them to a razor point.
If as a fan you find out that team is yours, then you should be very happy when DeBrusk's name is called indeed.
The ceiling isn't just high on this kid. It's stratospheric.