DENVER - To regular folks like us, the work required to become an elite NHLer is inconceivable.
And that doesn't change for the next crop of hockey stars, either.
"I saw Nathan MacKinnon in practice and I was already in awe and he was probably going three-quarter, maybe half-speed," 2022 NHL draft prospect Conor Geekie said ahead of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final.
MacKinnon, of course, is in a league of his own, sitting in a comfy class with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews and maybe a few others as kings of the NHL. You could aspire to be like them, but they're special for a reason.
Geekie knows that, even if he's still one of the prospects ahead of the NHL draft. Projected to go in the top 10 this July, Geekie is lauded as a smart forward with good size, a great shot and a tremendous amount of skill. Many scouts pin him to be a top-six forward once he eventually makes the NHL. And at 18, he's just soaking it all in and learning everything he can.
Geekie isn't a stranger to the bright lights of the big leagues, though. His brother, Morgan, just finished his first full season in the NHL with Seattle after parts of two years with the Carolina Hurricanes. He then represented Canada at the recent men's World Hockey Championship, grabbing a silver medal in his first national team experience with Canada.
Having a mentor like that is important to him, and the younger brother likes to keep an eye on the best to learn anything he can that he can integrate into his game. Like most fans of the game, he's impressed at the sheer skill the best of the best can bring up close to try and integrate it into his own game.
"It's always going to be quick, hard work, determination. I wouldn't say it's too much of a wakeup call, more of like 'wow, this is really it,'" he said.
Geekie had 70 points in 63 games for a stacked Winnipeg ICE team, good for fourth in team scoring. Don't let the team's skill distract you -- Geekie was one of the most effective two-way forwards on the ICE and is definitely one of the best passers in the draft class.
At the start of the year, one question mark was Geekie's skating. Since then, scouts have liked the improvement there, and there's still some room to improve it with the right coaching.
One NHL scout thinks it won't be long until he's NHL ready, depending on the right system. In The Hockey News' Draft Preview issue, another scout said "it's not just his size but his skill and skating. He's got the high-end puck skill, really noticeable 5-on-5 and on the power play."
"He's the type of player every coach wants on their roster," a WHL scout said. "He can play any role, holds his own in the defensive zone, has great size, his teammates have nothing but good things to say about him," a scout said. "He doesn't make many bad decisions with the puck and can play the puck well for his size."
Geekie still has a bit to go in his development path, and depending on the team that picks him, could elect to be patient bringing him up. In the short-term, Geekie should factor into Canada's World Junior Championship team and continue to give Winnipeg a chance at WHL supremacy before closing out his career.
And, eventually, he could become a player the next generation of top prospects look up to. Who knows?