For many of the pros who gather at the annual BioSteel camp in Toronto, St. Michael’s Arena is a convenient spot to work on their games with fellow elites. It’s low-key, but with the charm of being a classic old-school barn.
For defenseman Jake Walman, however, the rink means a bit more. The St. Louis Blues prospect played against the St. Mike’s Buzzers in the Ontario Jr. A League, as a member of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens. He also attended the adjoining independent Catholic school until Grade 10.
“We played here a couple times a year and always had a rivalry against St. Mike’s, so it’s familiar,” he said. “And I went to school here, so it has a special place in my heart. It’s nice to come back here and see the kids come in after school to watch us skate. It’s fun; I was in that position once.”
Now, Walman is shooting for the highest level. Last season was his final campaign with Providence College, the program he helped win a national championship with in 2015. Upon completion of his junior season with the Friars, Walman turned pro and the Blues sent him to the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, where he got into seven regular season games and eight playoff contests. The Blues really wanted him to get his feet wet in the pro game and Walman was happy to learn about the challenge of stepping up a rung in hockey.
“It’s mostly the man strength,” he said. “There’s guys that have been in the league 15 years and then there’s rookies like me, so it’s an adjustment. My game has to be sturdy because the guys can pick you apart if you’re not in position.”
Walman, who admits he was pretty slim after the Blues took him 82nd overall in 2014, has added at least 30 pounds to his 6-foot-1 frame since then, being listed at 200 pounds during the AHL playoffs this past spring. So instead of crushing weights in the off-season, he’s been working on his strength in a different, more practical manner.
“This summer I’ve actually been focusing a lot of my time on the ice,” he said. “The man strength isn’t so much in the gym, but in the on-ice battling. I’m looking to transition that to the real games.”
Which is why the BioSteel camp is such a boon for him. Walman can battle against NHL biggies like Tom Wilson or Wayne Simmonds in order to find a baseline for the upcoming season. While the Blues have a pretty nice high-end when it comes to defensemen right now, there is room on the bottom pairing for a feisty competition at training camp.
St. Louis has a number of young candidates pushing up from below, with Walman being joined by names such as Jordan Schmaltz, Vince Dunn and Petteri Lindbohm, among others.
“It’s always good to move up with guys that you’ve been working with and gotten drafted with,” Walman said. “You’ve had that camaraderie. It’s going to be a lot of competing and everyone is working for the same thing. It’s who is going to work the hardest and that’s what I’ve been focusing on this summer.”
With his great skating ability, a big shot and the ability to munch minutes, Walman is a very enticing prospect. And what he builds this summer could be the foundation for a long NHL career – one that might begin sooner than later.