KELOWNA â€” The phrase "break a leg" is not used the same way in sports as in performance art, and carries a very different meaning. However, the result might be the same in Devante Stephens’ case.
Stephens, born and raised in South Surrey, was worried about making the jump to junior hockey after his Major Midget season was cut short. He played in 22 games with the Valley West Hawks before the injury.
"I had to train really hard in the offseason to get to the point that I needed," he said, adding that he’s "adapted to the speed of the game" after getting regular minutes under his belt.
When he first got to Kelowna, he wondered whether he would get any ice time at all. Now that National Hockey League scouts are noticing him, the 18-year-old is blown away.
"Coming into this year, I was just focused on making the team. When something like this happens, you just have to look back and be grateful," Stephens said. "All the hard work that I’ve put in, to be rewarded like this is an honour."
In his first season, he’s played in 49 games with the Rockets and is paired with Madison Bowey, the Team Canada gold-medal winner and Washington Capitals’ second-round pick in the 2013 draft.
A product of Semiahmoo Minor Hockey, Stephens is currently ranked as the 108th pick among North American skaters, which would make him an early third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (see rankings at Nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=749385).
The WHL rookie is confident that a team will select him at the draft in Florida this summer.
"All I have to do is keep playing my game, and I think my game has been improving every night," he said. "I just want to keep that in my head; that I can do this and always keep a positive attitude."
Dan Lambert, head coach of the Rockets, said Stephens has been a big surprise for the team.
"He came in after breaking his leg last season and we weren’t sure where he was going to be," Lambert said. "Devante has stepped right in, gotten better on a daily basis and proved he can play a regular shift extremely well."
The coach noted Stephens was able to pick up a lot of minutes early in the season when the Rockets had injury problems, and when Bowey and Josh Morrissey represented Canada at the world juniors.
"For us, he came in and had to earn a spot on the team. He played well enough in training camp to do that," said Lambert.
Lambert, who was selected in the third round by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1989 draft, believes Stephens has a little more work to do before he joins an NHL organization, and will likely spend his next two seasons in the WHL.
"The draft is just a minor step in a player’s progression. He’s going to have to get stronger, first of all. He’s got to learn to shoot the puck better than he is … and become a harder player to play against," the coach added.
As for his journey, Stephens feels all this success came from hard work he’s put in over the past year.
"If you push through it enough, anything is possible," he said.
This year’s NHL draft takes place at the BBT Centre in Sunrise, Florida on June 26 and 27.