At 5-foot-6, 167Ibs., Joseph Garreffa isn’t striking fear into the hearts of the opposition, but ask any Kitchener Rangers fan and they’ll tell you the upbeat, energetic, recently-turned 19-year-old Toronto kid plays the game as hard as any blueshirt they’ve seen in the past decade.
Boasting quick feet, elusive agility and a knack for finding open ice, Garreffa proved to be Kitchener’s unsung hero this past spring, helping the Rangers reach double-overtime of Game 7 in the Western Conference Championship Series.
“We wouldn’t have gotten there without him,” reflected Rangers head coach Jay McKee. “We lost Connor Hall and Austin McEneny as the playoffs wore on and he dropped back to become one of our most reliable defencemen.”
You heard that right. Garreffa, a forward by trade, has spent a lot of time on the Kitchener blue line, proving to be the OHL’s premier utility man, one who put up 53 assists and 65 points over 68 games last season.
“There’s not too many guys doing both these days,” said Garreffa, who was a defenceman until his Bantam year. “I guess it comes pretty natural for me. I just try and use my speed to control the pace and move the puck quickly.
“You go up against a lot of bigger forwards,” he continued, “but I’m just trying to be efficient, read what’s happening and use a quick stick to get to pucks first and put them where I want them to go.”
Garreffa, who cites Johnny Gaudreau and recent OHL graduate Alex DeBrincat as inspiration, was a free agent invite to Florida Panthers Development Camp last month. He’s eager to take his added experience gleaned there back for another season in Kitchener where he always looks forward to Friday nights at The Aud.
“I love playing in Kitchener, I love being a Ranger,” he said enthusiastically. “It’s going to be a little bit different without guys like Mascher (Adam Mascherin) and Bunns (Connor Bunnaman) around this year, but we have a good group of guys. I remember coming in as a 16-year-old and having some older guys help me get settled and now it’s my turn to be able to do that with some of our new players.”
McKee will be leaning on Garreffa and other returning forwards in Greg Meireles, Rickard Hugg and Nick McHugh as the Rangers transition into a new era following the graduation of the aforementioned Mascherin, Bunnaman and other likely departures in Givani Smith, Logan Brown and Logan Stanley.
“The best thing about Joe is his enthusiasm and attitude in taking on new challenges,” said McKee. “He loves to play both forward and defence and is just a great kid that is willing and wants to be put wherever the staff feels we need him to give us the best chance to succeed.
“We have debates with our coaching staff and the guys that specialize on offence want him up front and the guys who specialize on defence want him on the back end, so he’s really effective and it’s a good problem to have.”
As for his future prospects of playing at the next level, McKee speaks from experience when he surveys Garreffa’s abilities.
“Personally, as a defenceman I always found the hardest forwards to play against were the smaller, shiftier guys that could turn on a dime and make you think twice about over-committing, guys like Max Afinogenov and Sergei Samsonov,” he said. “Joe has the skating ability, elusiveness and intelligence to make things happen and he’s only going to get stronger. I think there’s definitely a place in today’s game for a guy of his size and speed.”
After a second straight 60+ point campaign, “Joey G” prepares for his fourth OHL season, one where he’ll see no shortage of ice time in Ranger blue. Who knows, he might even play some defence too.
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