It’s been over nine months since Ty Nelson was chosen first overall at the 2020 OHL Priority Selection, and though he has yet to play an OHL game, his determination to remain hockey-ready has never wavered.
From reading hockey history books, to watching interviews of his favourite NHL stars, to studying old game film, the up-and-coming North Bay Battalion defenceman has maintained a well-rounded preparation plan for his rookie season with an eagerness that has gone a long way with GM Adam Dennis.
“You can see his eagerness to learn and his appetite his huge,” he said of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens graduate. “He and a couple of the other younger guys have had some calls with Ryan Oulahen just to go over some of the things we want to do and want to plan. He’s been great in taking a leadership role and asking the right questions. It’s really his eagerness that is so impressive. He’s never full, his appetite is always there and he’s always starved for more information.”
Unable to meet in person due to provincial COVID-19 restrictions, the Troops have met online for bi-weekly Zoom meetings over the past six months where they’ve had discussions around a variety of topics and have participated in a number of exercises.
“We’ve been covering off a ton of topics including the OHL ONSIDE program, different talks on diversity and all the things they’ll need to know going into a season. As we were getting closer to training camp, we were ramping it up to be more hockey-specific,” said Dennis. “We recently just completed a team-building exercise that took about a month. We wanted to give them a little competition and some homework exercises. It wasn’t under normal circumstances but it was great to see the buy-in from our team.”
Developing that team atmosphere without meeting in person or skating together as a group has been a consistent challenge over the past few months, but Dennis has been overly impressed with Nelson’s team bonding initiative.
“We haven’t been able to have our team in person but through Zoom calls and team building exercises, it’s been cool to see how he really feeds off of Luke Moncada, and the way that he asks the older players questions,” Dennis continued. “He’s a student in every aspect and he’s always looking for more. He’s always keeping us on our toes.”
Coming off a 17-41-4-0 record at the bottom of the standings during the 2019-20 campaign, Nelson’s expected to be a key piece of the Battalion rebuild along with a slew of fellow highly touted selections in Dalyn Wakely, Tnias Mathurin and first overall CHL Import Draft pick Matvei Petrov.
Holding that first overall title is both an honour and a challenge he’s ready to take on head first.
“It’s unthinkinable and sometimes still hard to process,” said the 16-year-old defenceman from his Toronto home. “I love it and I’m going to use it as a challenge to be a key piece, I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team. I feel that it’s such an honour to get drafted and to be a part of this rebuild. We’ve had a great draft that last couple years and some awesome veterans playing. I feel the team is going to have a great season whenever we do get to play.”
Between school and his two or three workouts a day, Nelson, who led all GTHL defencemen last year with 32 points (11-21—32) as a member of the GTHL champion Toronto Jr. Canadiens, has remained focused on improving both mentally and physically.
“Mentally, I’ve been working a lot with coaches that have put me in different positions. We talk about plays and everything and watch a lot of game film,” said Nelson. “Physically, I’ve gotten bigger, I’ve gotten stronger, and definitely faster. Cardio is a big thing, I’ve definitely been pushing that the last couple months. I feel like I’ve worked on developing everything and have become bigger and better in all aspects of the game.”
The start date to the 2020-21 OHL season has yet to be announced, but when the puck finally drops, Nelson will be ready to make an immediate impact in bringing his hockey IQ, creativity and offensive talent to North Bay Memorial Gardens.
“I’m going to keep making those smart plays that I’ve been making in the past and hopefully help the team’s productivity by scoring goals and putting up points. Points lead to wins and wins lead to playoffs,” Nelson continued.
Though it’s been a long nine months since his name was called out last April, another thing that hasn’t certainly wavered is his infectious excitement.
“It’s been the exact same the whole time right from the draft. I know the season’s coming, so whenever it comes, it comes. I’m just super amped and can’t wait.”
And both his unwavering excitement level and willingness to learn during these tough times will only continue to bode well for himself and for the team as a whole, says Dennis.
“I can tell you just by our conversations that Ty takes every opportunity available to himself. There haven’t been many normal opportunities over the past nine months what with what we’ve dealt with, but he’s found ways to get better despite the road blocks and he’s going to come out of this stronger mentally and physically. He’s a very resilient kid, he finds the positives in all aspects of his life, and I think it’s really going to bode well for him,” he said. “The sky’s the limit for him.”