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  • Writer's pictureBrandon Caputo

IceDogs 30-goal scorer Kevin He eager to finish strong in NHL Draft year

Updated: Mar 19

Brandon Caputo

Credit: Vivid Eye Photography


Niagara IceDogs standout forward Kevin He tied a then franchise record for goals as a 16-year-old during his rookie campaign in the OHL during the 2022-23 season but the former North York Ranger was motivated to deliver even bigger second season, being that he is in his draft eligible year ahead of June’s 2024 National Hockey League (NHL) Entry Draft.

 

He was originally selected as a second-round selection (25th overall) in the 2022 OHL Priority Selection draft by Niagara and made the team out of training camp as the team’s lone 16-year-old rookie. He went on to tie franchise icon Akil Thomas’ record for goals as a 16-year-old with 21, which stood only one season thanks to He’s current teammate Ryan Roobroeck.

 

Now in his second season, the 6’0, 183-pound winger has had anything but a prototypical sophomore slump. Despite getting off to a slower start by his standards with only four goals and five points through his first 13 games, the 17-year-old has rocketed up the point leaderboard and now leads his IceDogs with 30 goals and 50 points in 61 games.

 

Draft year preparation

Credit: Vivid Eye Photography


He talks about the preparation last summer as a big contributing factor to having an even better season than he did as a standout rookie. “I’m pretty pleased,” said He. “I put a lot of work in this summer and it goes back to my coaches and I’m paying attention to a lot of the details. Going in, I set a goal for myself, not just for goals but to be a better player overall. I think I’ve done that.”

 

He added that his confidence never wavered despite a sluggish start and knew trusting the process would pay off for results in the long term. “I just keep the same mindset,” said He. “Obviously I had a slow start but coming in ready to work every day and keeping that same mindset as I have the whole way through got me back to the level myself and everyone around me expected.”

 

The talented sniper went on to praise his teammates, who have helped get him to this point and also learning some things from his now current linemates; captain Gavin Bryant and rookie sensation Ryan Roobroeck.

 

“It’s been really easy playing with them, they’re excellent players and throughout the year it’s been helpful for my game as well and being able to learn off the things that they do,” said He. “It’s definitely been a collaborative effort with all three of us to obtain individual success at the same time.”

 

Strong advocacy from a mentor

Credit: Vivid Eye Photography


Since Ben Boudreau took over as the Niagara IceDogs head coach in early November 2023, he talks about what his new head coach has asked from him as he continues to push him to be the best he can be.

 

“Coach Ben has instilled the mentality in me to never take a shift off,” said He. “Try as hard as you can in practice or in games but never take a day for granted. Leave it all out there on the ice because you never know who’s watching.”

 

Niagara’s head coach talks about the many attributes of He that have impressed him in his first season coaching his hometown team in St. Catharines.

 

“I think when you see progression it’s always positive that there’s signs of improvement,” said Boudreau. “What he learned as a 16-year-old, he took into his 17-year-old season and has found a way to get to that 30-goal mark, a 50-point mark, which is is really big for him. The goals will come but nobody’s going to talk about the things you don’t see.”

 

Boudreau talked about He’s intangibles that scouts and pro organizations look for in a player other than their on-ice film, which the coach believes He checks all of those extra boxes you want as a coach.

 

“How big his heart is, how great of a guy he is, and how great of a guy he is out in our community,” Boudreau added. “How hard he works off the ice, how committed he is to his details, how he takes care of himself, and how good of a teammate he is.

 

“He sets the tone and leads by example for hard work both on and off the ice, those are the things that no one really sees when you’re putting in the work and that’s a true testament to his character. Kevin a player who can impact a game and a person who can impact an organization positively in all aspects.”

 

Niagara’s head coach went on to add a quick scouting report of the attributes that his young core players can learn from a guy like He on how to be good in all areas of the game, with or without the puck on how to remain a threat at all times.

 

“He just plays within details of his game,” said Boudreau. “It’s the little things like breaking out, how to get off the wall, how to create separation, what to do on zone entries, what your shot selection looks like outside compared to inside, how to communicate and how to play defensively as well. Those are all things you learn as a 17-year-old when your eyes are wide open as a 16-year-old rookie absorbing all of those things like a sponge and striving to always get better.”

 

Enjoying the process

Credit: Vivid Eye Photography


The IceDogs will not be in the 2024 OHL Playoffs this season but that has not deterred He from wanting to finish off the team’s final seven games in a grueling 10-day span strong and build positive momentum for them going into next season, which will be his third at this level.

 

“Of course, I want to finish off strong myself but I think it’s going to take everyone on board,” said He. “Everyone needs to dial it in individually and as a unit for us to earn results here.”

 

He knows what is to come in June as he is currently ranked 89th by NHL Central Scouting for North American skaters ahead of the 2024 NHL Entry Draft. He talks about keeping the noise down as much as possible knowing there are scouts watching his every shift and just trying to enjoy the rest of the season and the process, knowing it will only be ramped up in the coming months.

 

“You only go through this process once so I’m just trying to enjoy my time here and finish the season a high note,” He said assertively. “I can worry about the draft later but my main focus is finishing off the season with Niagara and enjoying all that it has to offer for me, soaking it all in.”

 

Boudreau added that the whole organization top to bottom is so excited and hopeful for He as he goes through the process in finishing out his draft year season and going into a pivotal offseason.

 

“Kevin’s done a great job handling adversity, battling through injuries and still being a great teammate,” said Boudreau. “You just get excited for him because there’s so much potential for years to come, both in junior and in pro. He’s a great kid and we hope the best for him come June.”

 

A hopeful franchise breakthrough moment

Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images


The reality is that the Niagara IceDogs have not had a homegrown player drafted or had their name called at the NHL Entry Draft as property of the IceDogs crest since 2019 when Phil Tomasino was selected in the first round (24th overall) by the Nashville Predators.

 

Boudreau talks about the moment being significant for not only He but also in getting the franchise’s fortunes turned around when it comes to having talent with NHL logos next to their names for years to come. The organization hopes to break through that four-year glass ceiling of not having a player called upon at the highest level, with He being the one to help them in that regard.

 

“That’s what we’re all hoping for, it would be a great thing,” said Boudreau. “Even our other young guys in future years but as far as Kevin he’s going to set the tone and the bar for the next generation of IceDogs. He should be drafted no matter what he’s done and what team he’s played for.”

 

In closing, the IceDogs head coach spoke about the excitement level as a mentor for this type of moment but knows it will be significant for everyone involved who has helped mold He into the special player and the special young man that he is today.

 

“It will be even bigger for the IceDogs organization, attracting fans and going into games knowing that is an NHL draft pick and it’s something we want to wrap our heads around,” said Boudreau. “We’re all pretty excited about it and we’re hopeful there in Vegas come late-June so we can see him. We all believe it’s a reality that his name will be called but we’re all keeping our fingers crossed for Kevin.”




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