You had to know this one was coming. For the past two seasons, Mark Stone has been the object of our collective affection. Only a hockey fan can understand the intrigue of a player picked so late in a draft stepping up to wildly outperform all expectations. Before long, these kinds of stories become the stuff of hockey lore: "overlooked by every team [insert by how many rounds], this determined youngster from [insert town, preferably small] defied the odds, refusing to listen to those who told him...he would never make it." Indeed, some of the most loved players in the league (read: people chant your name when the time remaining in the period matches your number) came from seemingly out of nowhere.
Some of the more obvious examples are Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and, well, you know. How about Radim Vrbata and Martin Erat? Both were from the same round as Zetteberg-- the 7th round in 1999 nearly rivals the 1st. However, as time has gone on, it seems as though the late-round gems are stumbled upon less and less. In 2004, the late-round finds were headlined by Mark Streit and Chris Campoli (just because we gave up a first for the guy... doesn't mean he was one). To become any kind of mainstay in the NHL is tremendous credit for any player picked up so late into the second day of drafting. For the most part, picks in round five through to seven are reserved for tough guys or long-shots. In 2010, Mark Stone seemed to be of the latter. He was a big player- over six feet tall and weighing in at just under 200 pounds. But he wasn't a fighter, to be sure- he had 52 penalty minutes over 95 games in the WHL, and his offensive production was mediocre. He was still a far cry from a point-a-game. Then, last season happened.
Since being drafted by the Senators, Mark Stone has been phenomenal. In both seasons, he has topped the century mark in points, and has been given First Team honours as a WHL All-Star. He has finished third and then second in league scoring. His numbers are hard to reason with. In both seasons, he has eclipsed every WHL prospect from the first round of his draft.
His/Cory Clouston's Brandon Wheat Kings are currently in the second round of the WHL playoffs against the Edmonton Oil Kings, following their sweepage of the Kootenay Ice KIngs.
Stone was a prominent fixture on Team Canada's World Junior squad (they must not test for skating ability...), taking a top line role, playing shotgun with Jonathan Huberdeau. His dominant presence in the slot translated into one more than a goal-a-game. He even scored the overtime winner for the Senators at the annual rookie competition- against Toronto. So... when can you start, kid?
Before his first year as Sens property had come to a close, many were penciling Stone into a top-six role. I caution you that, just like Stone's reputedly troubled skating: not so fast. Even as he planted his name all over the score sheet last season, Stone's rise was inhibited by the one belabored point of footspeed, and the question of whether his fundamentals would be strong enough at the professional level. There are certain kinds of things that can be accomplished in junior that you just can't get away with in the NHL, according to a group termed "party poopers". Still, the Senators have acknowledged the deficiency in his game and Stone knows the area(s) he needs to improve upon in oder to be able to succeed at the next level.
As understandably amped as Sens fans are about Stone's emergence, there is no rush. He has exhibited a desirable skill-set: his goals come in dirty areas, he has quick hands, a hard shot and a physical presence. Before we label him as the next late-round superstar, Stone needs the opportunity to smooth out the rougher edges of his game. His future on this team is not in the coming season, but two or three down the road. In just two seasons, he has done more than enough to overcome his pedigree of being a sixth-round selection and has reserved room for himself in the tenth overall spot on Silver Seven's Top 25 Under 25. Let's see what he can do in another two.