After winning an Eastern Conference title in 2017 and battling the top-seeded Barrie Colts to Game 7 of the opening round this past spring, the Mississauga Steelheads are saying goodbye to some of the core pieces that brought them a great deal of recent success.
With overagers Stephen Gibson, Mathieu Foget and Trent Fox graduated, key veterans Michael McLeod, Nicolas Hague and Jacob Moverare likely turning pro and the potential for Owen Tippett to get a long look in Florida this fall, the youth movement is on in Mississauga.
While Edmonton Oilers prospect Ryan McLeod is the new face of the club’s offence, head coach and general manager James Richmond is eager to see others establish themselves as reliable supporting pieces out of the gate this season and 18-year-old winger Michael Little is a name that has come up in conversation. After a slow start to his sophomore year, Little put up 25 of his 28 points from December-on, showing visible signs of progress along the way.
“He had a great second half and got invited to two different NHL Development Camps,” said Richmond of the former third round draft pick. “We’ve seen him over the summer here working very hard. What he did late last season should catapult him into a very important year for both his development as an individual and our progress as a hockey club.”
A local product from Mississauga, Little attended camp with both the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames and now works out four times a week at the Athlete Training Centre, skates twice a week with Richmond and does two sessions a week with NHL skating coach Dawn Braid.
After upping his production from eight points as a rookie to 28 last season, Little knows that progression needs to continue this season.
“We’re not going to have a lot of the guys we’ve had around the past couple years, so I know it’s my turn to take on more responsibility and make a difference,” he said. “I’ve been working really hard, taking some of the experiences that I had in Nashville and Calgary and using them as motivation to be improving every day.”
Little has been a front line player in the past, playing a big role on a Toronto Marlboros Minor Midget team that reached double-overtime of the 2016 OHL Cup and featured other current day OHL names in Akil Thomas (Niagara IceDogs) and Allan McShane (Oshawa Generals). Little had 19 goals and 27 assists for 46 points in his draft year.
“In my rookie year we had a pretty good team and I didn’t see a lot of ice time but I was fortunate enough to have some older teammates like Nathan Bastian, Spencer Watson and Vili Saarijarvi to look up to. I think it also helped my transition into the OHL being able to live at home with my parents and attend my usual high school (St. Aloysius Gonzaga).
“Through everything the Steelheads organization has been great to me,” he continued. “The coaching staff, management and everyone involved. Now I’m working hard to be able to show people some of the gains I’ve made come training camp.”
Known as a player’s coach who keeps the lines of communication open, Richmond is looking forward to seeing what Little, fellow 18-year-old Nicholas Canade and 2001-born talents Keean Washkurak and Cole Schwindt can bring to the offence this fall.
“Michael knows about the opportunity that’s ahead of him, and so it’s easy to put the work in when you know there’s a lot of room to grow. He’s one of a few guys in our lineup that has shown he understands the league, how hard it is to score at this level, and we’ve seen him really put in the time to enable him to be a bigger factor in our lineup next season.”
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