A new season means new opportunities.
Hitmen defenceman Luke Prokop has taken his game to new heights in his sophomore year, and it has paid off with a ‘B’ rating, indicating a potential second or third round pick, on the initial NHL Players to Watch list for the 2020 NHL Draft.
He’s a rookie no more, and it has shown.
“It’s a huge weight off your shoulders not being a rookie,” Prokop said. “I didn’t know what to expect coming into the league but headed into this year I felt more comfortable and confident in my abilities.
“I take the recognition in being listed, it’s an honour but it’s something I take as a measuring stick to improve myself each day. I want to get to an ‘A’ ranking and there’s extra motivation for me to keep growing and showcase my game.”
The 17-year-old has seen his role expand playing top-four minutes on the Hitmen blueline and has taken advantage of the extra ice time.
With four points (1G, 3A) in the first 14 games, he’s well on track to surpass his numbers from a year ago when he posted 10 points (1G, 9A) as a rookie.
“If you want to get points the only way to do it is to shoot the puck and have great vision on the ice,” he said. “It’s hard to get points just sitting back on the blueline, you have to jump up in the rush and I’m more comfortable doing that whereas last year I was afraid of making mistakes and hesitated.
“This off-season was huge for me to find composure with the puck on my stick and believe in myself.
“It’s good to know that the coaches trust me and can put me out in any situation. Last year there were chances for me to implement myself offensively in the lineup and at times I didn’t take advantage so I’m trying to make the most of that this year.”
Aside from his impressive poise with the puck, another area that has seen an improvement is his physical play.
Prokop admits that he also held back in that department last season, worrying about being too over-aggressive and getting caught out of position by trying to make the big hit.
But now, he knows when exactly to pick his spots.
“Being a bigger body, I was focused on getting stronger and filling out my frame,” he said. “The physicality will grow more over time and it’s not something you can turn a switch on and off. I know I have to continue to develop it over the course of the season but I’m happy with where it’s at right now.
“The season is a marathon and I know I’m going to have ups and downs. It’s all about riding out the lows and not getting too high on the highs.”
And having such a tight knit group like the one in the Hitmen locker room makes things easier for not just Prokop, but everyone when they face the various lows he mentioned throughout the course of the season.
“No matter what happens we always have each other’s back,” he said. “Having such a close group like we do is huge to battle together and know that the support is there in the good and bad.
“We’ve all embraced the new guys and it’s not hard to implement them into everyday things. Our team chemistry is pretty high right now and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.”