There’s still lots of time for this Growlers rookie

Un­drafted Lat­vian de­fence­man im­pressed Maple Leafs at rookie camp and main NHL train­ing camp

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - SPORTS - Robin Short Robin Short is The Tele­gram’s Sports Ed­i­tor. He can be reached by email robin. short@thetele­gram.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Te­ly­robin­short

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.

ROBIN SHORT/THE TELE­GRAM

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.

CP FILE PHOTO

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.

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