With the Ottawa Senators’ prospect pool as deep as it is, the 2018 development camp features the largest group of talent the team has ever had. Top prospects Brady Tkachuk, Logan Brown, Colin White and others put their skills to the test, as the publicly open event provides optimism for the future.
Among all the big names, one player who has gone significantly under the radar is Aaron Luchuk. Hailing from Kingston, Ontario, he went undrafted in both the 2016 and 2017 NHL drafts, before being picked up by the Sens as a free agent in December of this past season on an entry-level contract.
And is it ever looking like a fantastic pick up.
Spending four years in the OHL, Luchuk completed his junior career loaded with hardware. He was a major part of the Windsor Spitfires’ Memorial Cup championship in 2017, scoring four points in as many games in front of the home crowd. Playing as an overager this past season, and traded to the Barrie Colts midway through, he took home two OHL awards as the top scorer and top overager.
During the ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame earlier this month, Luchuk had the opportunity to meet with Chris Campoli, a former Senator of 150 games who was there to present the awards. “He told me briefly about what his experiences were in Ottawa and how much he loved the city and loved the team. He’s a nice guy, a really cool guy to meet and have a connection with at the awards ceremony.”
Luchuk could be back at the Hall of Fame again in a few months, with fellow Kingston native Jayna Hefford inducted this past week. Being an alumni of the same high school, Luchuk says he met Jayna briefly as a kid when she would visit their school. Her influence on Kingston hockey goes much deeper.
“She’s a really great role model young girls in the Kingston area. I have a younger sister who looked up to Jayna growing up playing hockey. What she did for Kingston hockey and women’s hockey is tremendous.”
Forward spots on the Sens’ NHL roster will be competitive this season, with a fine line between who starts in Ottawa or Belleville. Although Luchuk has visited Belleville a couple times and enjoys their brand new facilities, he’s keeping his hopes high of making the big club. And it all starts with working hard at development camp.
“Skating’s kind of my main thing that I need to get worked up a little more. I’ll be taking the summer to work on that and see what I can do.” Luchuk says he’ll be working on “a little bit of everything”, as he heads towards the 2018-19 season. Asked about his greatest asset, he cited his hockey sense. “I see things on the ice better than most of these guys do, and I think that gives me an advantage over guys that are a bit taller and stronger.”
Development camp has also proven to be a good time to catch up with former teammates. With former Windsor linemate Logan Brown also vying for an roster spot, Luchuk is hoping they can continue to build some chemistry. “He’s one of my best friends, and I’m lucky enough to have a guy like that within the organization. I hope for us to play together for a long time.” Having been together since 2014, the two were instrumental in the Spitfires’ Memorial Cup championship, before each parting their separate ways through trades.
Although his move to Barrie saw him leave his captaincy in Windsor which he wore proudly, it allowed him to be paired with two of the OHL’s best Russians and Dimitri Sokolov and recent second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov. “I only got to play with Andrei for a couple months, but we became fast friends when I was there. We talk everyday pretty much still and talk about our experiences with going to different teams. He’s a tremendous player and a tremendous guy, and he’s going to do tremendous things in the league.” Asked on whether he picked up any Russian from his linemates, “I learned some Russian. None of the good words, but mostly bad words.”
Despite the early frustrations of going undrafted, Luchuk’s hard work is finally paying off. In a development camp filled with invites with big aspirations, he acts as a good example of what can happen when a player finds motivation. His words of advice: don’t give up.
“It’s pretty easy if you get undrafted to kind of feel like it’s over and the dream’s done. But I used that as motivation and put it as a chip on my shoulder, and work towards my final goal of making it to the NHL. I’ve almost got there but I still have a lot more work to do.”
It’s brought Luchuk all the way to where he is now, battling for a roster spot in an NHL development camp. With his greatest season to date behind him, Luchuk persists to continue aiming higher.