COVID-19 already brought a promising season on the ice to a sudden end for Barrie native Isaak Phillips and his Sudbury Wolves.
Now the pandemic has resulted in the delay of what is sure to be the biggest day of his young hockey career. Still, the wait will be well worth it when Phillips hears his name called in the 2020 NHL Draft.
"Obviously, everybody is going through the same thing," said the Wolves defenceman, who is ranked 114th overall among North American skaters in the 2020 NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings. "It would have been awesome to have it at the end of June and be able to celebrate with everybody, but still if we would have had it at the end of June we wouldn't have been able to have a big gathering anyways.
"Hopefully in October we can have some family and friends over and if things go right, I'll be picked," Phillips added. "It's just something you've been waiting for your whole life, so if I have to wait a couple of more months it's not really that big of a deal."
Phillips won't be the only Barrie 'AAA' minor hockey graduate expected to be selected in the draft that is now slated to be held in early October. He'll be joined by some former minor-midget teammates, such as Mississauga Steelheads forward James Hardie (Innisfil) and Barrie Colts forward Tyson Foerster (Alliston).
"I think it shows the development you get here in Barrie and you don't need to go anywhere else," Phillips told BarrieToday. "It's definitely surreal to see everyone's dreams and everyone living that. It's an awesome experience to go through that with those guys."
Phillips is coming off his second season in Sudbury where his game took a huge step forward. He doubled his point totals with nine goals and 17 assists in 63 games and played a key role on the back end for the Central Division-leading Wolves.
"I've kind of been someone that's trended in the right direction," said the 18-year-old, who had a sudden growth spurt in his mid-teens and now stands at six-foot-three. "Ever since that first year in minor midget, I've always been slowly building my way up and always working really hard in the summers. Then each year I go in and I set the goals for myself and, obviously with our team in Sudbury, we had a lot of guys we could move the puck to.
"I think if we had gone on to the playoffs we would have done some damage," Phillips added. "Overall, it was a good year for me and I'll look to build on that going to next year."
NHL scouts certainly took notice of Phillips. One NHL scout from an Eastern Conference team believes, depending on the style play or the system they play, are going to really like Phillips or respect what he has and just want a little bit more in terms of how he moves the puck.
"The one thing with him is he has real great natural physical abilities," the NHL scout explained. "He has real good size. He's an excellent skater, like when he gets going with the puck and takes off up the ice he has a real natural effortless stride and he does have some individual skill.
"He's got a good shot. His biggest thing, and it's got better and I know they worked with him and at times he relies a little too much on it, is his physical tools," the scout added. "He can pick it up and take off and exit with the puck out of your zone, but at the next level he's got to be able to do that and also make those nifty little passes."
Phillips sees himself as a two-way defenceman, similar to the style of game played by the Edmonton Oilers' blue-line duo of Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse.
"Two big guys that are also strong skaters that shut down their own end and then have good feet to get up in the play, and join that second wave," he said.
"I'm working on my overall game, but one thing I'm really trying to key on is getting my strength up and making my legs a lot stronger," Phillips added. "Obviously, that will help my skating, which is one of my best attributes. Then I'm just looking to get stronger in the corners and improve my physical play.
"If I can improve that, I can add that next level to my game which will be really good for me, for my game to hopefully transition to the next level."
With so much responsibility on the back end, the development of young defenceman can take some time. Phillips relished the bigger role and increased ice time he received from coach Cory Stillman and the coaching staff.
"It takes a while to almost become comfortable," the NHL scout said. "Once they become comfortable than they have a chance to become confident, so I thought in year two he just looked like a more calm, confident player. When he got the puck, instead of just firing it off the boards or when a guy was coming down and instead of just backing right in, he was challenging more.
"He was trusting his tools and just getting more involved. He took a big step this year."
For Phillips, key to his development coming into last season was near the end of his rookie year when injuries on the blue-line resulted in a boost of ice time and responsibility for he and fellow first-year defender Jack Thompson.
"We were able to just take the next stride and take on a bigger role on the defensive core and just contribute where our skills were needed," Phillips explained. "For me, it was just finding my game at the start. The first couple of months just not trying to do too much on the ice and find where I can be the best and help my teammates out.
"I think coming into the second half I really showed that I can be someone that's trusted upon in the defensive end and someone that's able to jump in on the second wave and use my offensive ability to help the team."
Phillips took a big step in terms of his presence on the ice and the confidence and the calm which he played. Which, for a defenceman, is a big thing.
"Right now, he has the physical tools and the abilities to have a chance, which a lot of guys don't," the Eastern scout said of Phillips playing in the NHL. "With all the other stuff, he puts that together he is a guy that might play in your top five or six. With the skating and with the puck he can kill some penalties. He's not really a power-play guy. I won't call him multi-creative, but he does have a pretty good shot from the point.
"There's a lot of things to his game that give him a chance on the pro side than there are cons to his game."
Phillips isn't leaving anything to chance, even with the pandemic. After spending the last four months working out at home, he returned to the ice three weeks ago and is on the ice three or four times a week with Mariposa School of Skating coach Paul Matheson and former OHLers Daniel Tkaczuk and Zach McCullough.
"I'm in the best shape I've ever been in," he said.