There’s still lots of time for this Growlers rookie
Undrafted Latvian defenceman impressed Maple Leafs at rookie camp and main NHL training camp
Quick, aside from being outstanding Nhlers, what do Mark Giordano, Tyler Johnson, Tyler Bozak, Torey Krug and Jay Beagle, to name a few, have in common?
If you said all were undrafted free agents, you’d be bang on.
There aren’t many of them, mind you, but history has proven a National Hockey League career is not lost because a player is passed over in the draft.
Hall of Famers Martin St. Louis and Dino Ciccarelli are posters boys for the underdogs.
For whatever reason, it sometimes takes some players a little longer to find their game than others. Call them late bloomers.
Now while it’s very premature to start sizing Kristians Rubins for an NHL sweater, the 20-yearold Latvian defenceman could, at the end of the day, be one of those undrafted skaters were talking about.
Rubins made his pro debut last night as the Newfoundlanders Growlers played their first ECHL game against the Florida Everblades at Mile One.
At 6-4 and 210 pounds, Rubins has the size, and the legs, to play the game.
Why then was he not drafted? Good question. Whilst playing in Sweden, Rubins was ranked 99th among European skaters during his draft year in 2016.
While he didn’t hear his named called, Rubins did show enough to have the Winnipeg Jets invite him to their summer prospects tournament, although nothing came of it.
The following year, after coming over to Canada to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, Rubins suffered a rash of injuries and missed 23 games (he did, however, play for Latvia in the World Junior Hockey Championship).
There may be umpteen reasons why, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are certainly happy to have Rubins close by after the big defenceman signed an ECHL contract with the Growlers over the summer.
“He impressed the Toronto coaching staff at rookie camp, and at the NHL camp,” Growlers coach Ryane Clowe said. “He’s a guy who’s been progressively getting better, even in the short time I’ve seen him.
“He’s been a good find.” An indicator of how good Rubins can be came about last spring, at the world hockey championship in Denmark.
Rubins was one of his country’s starting defenceman, the only player from the Canadian Hockey League on a Latvian squad that featured KHL players, European pros (primarily Switzerland and Germany) and four others from the American Hockey League.
“When they invited me to camp, I don’t think they had me as a guy who would make the team,” he said of the Latvian national squad. “I think I was like the 15th D-man.
“But I worked my way in there, made the team as the sixth or seventh guy, and next thing you know I’m getting regular minutes.”
Remember what we said about late bloomers?
The highlight of Rubins’s tournament, and career, came in a
game against Canada. Trailing 1-0 after two periods, the pesky Latvians, coached by EX-NHL bench boss Bob Hartley, tied it in the third on a goal from the unlikely Rubins, which set up overtime.
Connor Mcdavid eventually won it for Canada in the extra session, clinching a spot in the quarter-finals for the Canadians.
“That was a dream come true,” Rubins said. “That game was one of the best I’ve ever played in my life.”
After two years of junior hockey — he was an overager last season — Rubins is anxious to get his pro career kicked into high gear. And Newfoundland is but another stop on a journey that started in 2013 when he moved to Sweden to play U18 hockey as a 16-year-old.
As a result, he speaks four different languages with proficiency — Latvia, Russian, Swedish and English.
“It was hard,” he says of the
move to Sweden and, especially, Canada. “But I was committed to moving because I didn’t really see an opportunity to grow as a hockey player in Latvia.”
Now Rubins is getting used to another new city. And for many youngsters, the city or town in which they play is secondary to the game on the ice.
“This isn’t new to me. Coming from Europe and going to the Hat, it was a new place, a new culture, a new environment. But I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
“I haven’t yet seen St. John’s very much, but it’s still Canada and it’s hockey and that’s what is most important.
“That and turning pro. And I think I’m ready for it. It’s time.”
And perhaps that’s all Rubins needs, just a bit more time.
Kristians Rubins of Latvia played in the world hockey championship with his native country last spring, scoring a big goal against Canada. He has impressed the Toronto Maple Leafs so far.
Newfoundland Growlers rookie defenceman Kristians Rubins spent two years with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League before signing an ECHL contract last summer.