Early in his career, defenseman Layton Ahac wasn’t generating much buzz. He was drafted by the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, but never signed. In bantam and midget, he was good, but nothing screamed NHL-good. And because of that, not many junior teams were coming calling as he prepared to take that step.
Not many except for the BCHL’s Prince George Spruce Kings.
It was ahead of the 2017-18 season that the Spruce Kings took a chance on Ahac, one that gave the young defenseman the opportunity to showcase his ability, and over the past two seasons, he has truly elevated his game. In his rookie season, he was named to the BCHL’s All-Rookie Team, and this past season, he helped lead the Spruce Kings to a BCHL title, a regional championship and a spot to the National Junior A Championship, where Prince George fell to the No. 1-ranked Brooks Bandits in the final. But the Spruce Kings were by far Brooks’ biggest challenge this year: the Bandits lost just three of their 60 regular season games, but Ahac and Prince George beat them four times in the six-game Doyle Cup.
And now, two years after he passed on his chance with the Thunderbirds to sign with the Spruce Kings and maintain his NCAA eligibility, Ahac finds himself committed to Ohio State University and attending the NHL draft as one of Canadian Jr. A’s top prospects.
As the second-highest scoring U-18 defenseman in the BCHL with 35 points, Ahac showed incredible promise in a year that saw him play big minutes with Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge. And with it, scouts have shown an increasing interest in the 18-year-old. In all, 18 NHL teams spoke with him at the draft combine earlier this month. Ahac was quick to admit that he never was a top recruit anywhere he played, but he is proud of the work he has put in to become the 62nd-ranked North American skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, which is a significant jump from No. 114, where he was listed midway through the season. Consistency was the key to his rise. What you’d see out of him one game is what you’d see in the next. He rarely had an off night, especially in the playoffs, where he scored 17 points in as many games.
“Ahac seems to play his best hockey against opponents’ top lines. His two-way game is outstanding,” one scout said about Ahac, who started hockey as a forward as a young kid. “You can throw him in most situations and he’ll come out on top.”
While the BCHL is considered a top Jr. A league in Canada – Victoria Grizzlies forward Alex Newhook is expected to go in the top 10 – it’s not major junior. So for a player like Ahac to turn heads, he needs to really stand out. That’s what he did, taking advantage of the opportunity the BCHL provided. While Ahac could bulk up and refine his scoring touch, he does have a lot of traits teams will be searching for in the second or third round.
“I’d say I’m a big defender, I can skate well for my size,” Ahac said. “I play a good two-way game. I take care of my own end but I also like to get up in the rush and help create scoring chances on offense. But I need to put on that strength that’s going to help me defend at the next level. I’ll be playing against guys up to 24 years old (in the NCAA) so that’s going to be a big key for me.”
Ahac will get the seasoning he needs to continue developing over the next few years when he heads off to college. He’s got the raw talent to be a good second- or third-pairing option in the future, but he needs more time against older and tougher competition. Ahac said he models his game after Vancouver defenseman Chris Tanev – a solid two-way defender like Ahac. And if that’s who he ends up mimicking, Ahac is in for a good, long NHL career.
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