Top 25 Under 25, #24: Kelly Summers
The local defenceman is about to finish up his final year at Clarkson (NCAA).
No. 24: Kelly Summers (Reader rank: 27, Last year: 30)
Like Macoy Erkamps before him, Kelly Summers is a right-shot defender who has likely jumped a few spots thanks to the players leaving the organization or have graduated. He’s an important player on the organizational depth chart, though, because he’s one of only five right-shot D on the list; I had him ranked as the third-best.
Summers was taken in the 7th round (189th ov) in the 2014 draft, one pick before Francis Perron. While the Quebecois forward has gone on to tear up the QMJHL and have a solid rookie season in the AHL, Summers opted for the slower route: the NCAA. He’s currently going into his final year of NCAA eligibility at Clarkson University — the former stomping grounds of Mark Borowiecki — and is expected to eclipse the 20 point mark or run the risk of not being signed.
Summers has some pedigree: he was named the Top Prospect of the CCHL, the Eastern Ontario equivalent of Kyle Turris’ BCHL and Cale Makar’s AJHL, in his draft year. Although none of the players who have received the award are household names, all were drafted and went to the NCAA for further development. In particular, the CCHL has produced many former Ottawa Senators, and a decent crop of NHL players. Additionally, scouting services like ISS Hockey (61st), Future Considerations (66th), and McKeen’s (109th) had Summers ranked well before he was taken, and on Central Scouting’s final rankings of North American skaters, Summers was ranked 73rd overall, a big jump from his midterm ranking of 155th. What did they like about Summers? From Future Considerations:
Summers is a good skater with excellent pivots and lateral movement. Uses his skating ability to get out of trouble and has no problem handling the puck. Always seemed to have his head up. Summers moves the puck extremely well. Good tape-to-tape passes and doesn’t take unnecessary chances coming out of his zone. His point shots always seem to find their way to the net. Strong sense of when to pinch and when to back off. He uses his big frame effectively in the corners, tying up his competition and winning puck battles. Summers is not a player who will get into many fights, but he will not shy away from contact either. Makes smart plays in his own end and has good vision quarterbacking the power play. Challenges rushing players one on one and wins the battles. He also uses his frame to battle at the front of the net and does not get out of position looking for big hits. It’s impressive how much he has worked on his skating since the beginning of the year. He has clearly been working on his foot work and improving his overall speed. (May 2014)
Yahoo Sports’ junior hockey blog also profiled Summers in his draft year, featuring this tidbit from his CCHL coach:
Central Scouting has only two Canadian Junior A players ranked above Summers, who tallied 17 goals and 60 points over 56 games. Those are exceptional numbers for any defender, let alone one who's only 17 years old.
"He's a special player — he'll be a top-four guy in the NHL at some point for sure," Canadians coach Jason Clarke says. "Kelly's work ethic and Kelly's attention to detail and just overall maturity level has really just come to fruition ever since Christmastime. He's really taken the next step to becoming an elite player.
"I think the big thing for Kelly is it's just him getting bigger, stronger, faster, His talent that he has, his hockey sense is just a God-given talent and he just has to move forward with some real hard work."
Those ‘in the know’ in the NCAA at the time liked Summers’ decision to go to Clarkson, stating that their coaching staff had two of the better defensive minds in the game. However, Clarkson’s list of NHL alumni among defence is relatively small, with only Grant Clitsome, Kent Huskins, and Willie Mitchell as notable names (alongside Borowiecki).
Regardless, we have a good idea of Summers’ strengths: he’s a transition defender, using his good hockey IQ to make smart decisions and move the puck quickly up the ice. His junior numbers indicate that he’s a passer, and he has pro size. His weakness?
While he appreciates the praise he's getting for his skills, he is attuned to the reality he'll have to improve his tempo on the ice and his strength. That's part of why he sees the more compact, weekend-based college hockey schedule as a good fit.
"My acceleration and quick feet, if I can just keep working on that it's going to put me in a good place for next year at Clarkson," he says. "Just being there will give me a lot of time to work in the gym."
In his first year at Clarkson, Summers was named to his league’s All-Rookie Team, a notable accomplishment since almost all NCAA players, drafted or undrafted, who end up being NHLers were recognized by their league in this way at some point in their career. Summers has steadily increased his point totals from year-to-year (10, 14, 17), finishing 13th in ECAC scoring among defenders last season (and 10th in shots/game). He’ll likely play on Clarkson’s top-pair with Flyers draft pick Terrance Amorosa this upcoming season.
Will Summers get signed? Interestingly, during the 2012 - 2014 NHL drafts, the Senators took seven (7) NCAA bound players and looking back now, only Summers looks to have a decent shot of signing, especially given the team’s lack of right-shot defenders in the system. His rank relative to his peers in the ECAC and that league’s unsuccessful history of producing quality NHL defenders in the past doesn’t give me much hope in Summers’ NHL potential. That being said, he’s certainly set up to succeed this year, and his smart, patient style of play may still find success in the AHL.