Drake Batherson wasn’t invited to Canada’s summer showcase and is representing his country for the first time in his career. He’s making the most of the opportunity, too, as a standout scorer for the Canadians.
BUFFALO – This time two years ago, Drake Batherson wasn’t even good enough to play in the Quebec League. In fact, he wasn’t even scoring much at the Jr. A level in the Maritimes. In 38 games with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and the Valley Wildcats, Batherson had four goals, which is one more than he scored in one game last night and three fewer than he has so far in this year’s World Junior Championship.
If there’s a more unlikely story than the 19-year-old Batherson on this year’s Canadian team, we’d love to hear it. Care to guess who’s leading Canada in goals in this tournament? It’s Batherson, who has seven to share the overall tournament goal scoring lead with Kieffer Bellows of USA and Filip Zadina of the Czech Republic. And once again, Batherson was Canada’s triggerman in their 7-2 win over the Czechs in the semifinal with a hat trick.
Batherson’s offensive explosion should come as no surprise to those who have watched the QMJHL this season. He currently sits 17th in league scoring, but has played only 24 games and is second in points per game only to Alex Barre-Boulet, who is playing this season as an overage player. What should come as a surprise, though, is that Batherson has emerged as a key offensive contributor despite the fact that he wasn’t even invited to play for Canada during the summer showcase tournament and this is the first time he’s ever represented his country at any level.
“A few years ago I never thought I’d be in the position I’m in today,” Batherson said. “My goal coming into this year was to get an invite to this (selection) camp. I ended up getting the invite and, luckily enough I made the team and I’m enjoying the whole experience here. Not getting the invite last summer, I saw a few guys who didn’t get invited last summer and got an invite to camp and ended up making the team, and I thought I could be like that.”
Persevering the face of setbacks is pretty much true to form for Batherson. He was a sixth-round pick of the Screaming Eagles in 2015, but played just 10 games for the team before going back to play Jr. A hockey. That was also his draft year, so it came as no surprise that he was passed over completely before being taken in the fourth round by the Ottawa Senators in 2017. The Senators drafted only four players in that draft and have already traded one of them – first-round pick Shane Bowers in the deal for Matt Duchene – so they’re counting on Batherson to continue his upward trajectory. (Canadian teammate Alex Formenton was another player the Senators took in 2017.) In fact, they signed both him and Formenton to entry-level deals.
Batherson’s ties to both hockey and the Senators are deep. In fact, he holds dual American-Canadian citizenship and could have been part of USA Hockey’s program by virtue of the fact that he was born in Fort Wayne, Ind., when his father Norm was playing in the minors. He lived in Fort Wayne for only two weeks before his father took his game to Germany for seven years, where the younger Batherson took his first skating strides. Early in his pro career, Norm Batherson signed a free agent with the Senators and played for their minor pro affiliates in Prince Edward Island and Thunder Bay. And if Batherson begins his career next season with the Senators minor pro team in Belleville, he’ll be playing in the same city where his father played major junior hockey. His uncle, meanwhile, is former NHL tough guy Dennis Vial, who played four seasons for the Senators and twice had seasons of 200-plus penalty minutes.
Batherson is nothing like his uncle as a player, but says Vial was instrumental in helping him become an NHL player, teaching him the values of perseverance and hard work, traits that have served him well the past couple of seasons. “Having a father and uncle who both played professional hockey really helped,” Batherson said. “Dennis definitely emphasized hard work to me growing up and not giving up on my dream because he was there through hard work and determination and passion and I think he passed that on to me. I give him a lot of credit for that.”
But most of the credit in this case goes to Batherson himself. And if he does emerge from this tournament with a gold medal hanging around his neck Friday night, he’ll have more of an appreciation than most of his teammates of the odyssey it took to get here.
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