There are two things that jump out at you before you see Max Gerlach play; his size and his background. Listed (generously) by the Western Hockey League as 5’8.5″ and 167 pounds, he hails from the hockey hotbed of Flower Mound, Texas – a Dallas suburb where the Minnesota-born winger moved when he was young. Due to his family’s background in hockey, Gerlach played growing up and became a fan of the Dallas Stars. When he got older and wanted to see how far he could go with the sport, he made the big leap of leaving home to pursue his dreams.
“So I lived in Colorado, I moved there when I was 14 and started playing for the Colorado Thunderbirds and that’s when it kinda got pretty competitive,” recalled Gerlach. “That’s obviously the Dub draft year, when I was 14, and at the end of that year I got drafted to Medicine Hat and from there on I was choosing between college or major junior. I previously committed to North Dakota but then I decided to come up here.”
The 2015-16 season was Gerlach’s first in the Western Hockey League and he faced the unique challenge of learning the ebbs and flows of a brand-new league (in a country that he had never lived in before) as well as facing the growing pressures of his first season of National Hockey League draft eligibility. Fortunately for him, he was playing on a Medicine Hat Tigers team that boasted a good deal of experience in both respects, in terms of mentorship in the locker room and guidance from veteran coach Shawn Clouston.
“You talk to guys like Matt Bradley, who was drafted last year to Montreal, and then Ty Stanton’s gone to a number of NHL camps, and then you have David Quenneville, who his brother was a first round pick and his oldest brother was also a draft pick. You just talk to guys like that, and they have buddies that they know too,” said Gerlach, listing his positive influences.
Gerlach’s apprenticeship in the WHL and his NHL dreams were aided by time he was able to spend with several prominent former NHL players while plying his trade for three seasons for the Colorado Thunderbirds.
“When I lived in Colorado I lived with Adam Foote, who played in the NHL for 20-plus years, so I picked his brain quite a bit,” recalled Gerlach. “And Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, all those guys were around me while I was there, so I think I’ve learned quite a bit about the pro lifestyle and I think I know what it takes to be there.”
Gerlach was ranked 142nd among North American skaters by NHL’s Central Scouting Service in their final rankings. It’s easy to see why teams would covet him; he’s got a laser of a wrist shot and he’s got great acceleration and speed and he’s a right-handed shot. It’s also not difficult to see what the perceived drawbacks are about his game; he’s not that big, and his play away from the puck could use some work, particularly in terms of board battles and dealing with larger players. But in a game that’s seen giants that can’t play a 200-foot game get crowed out by rule changes and the emphasis towards offense, Gerlach could easily be a low-risk late round option for teams seeking goal-scoring.
“I think the game’s changing quite a bit,” shared Gerlach. “The game is getting smaller. The big guys that can’t skate, they’re getting pushed out of the league. Big tough guys, their roles are being taken by smaller guys on the third and fourth lines that are creating offense and creating chances for their team. I think that even though I’m lacking in size, I think the mentality I saw Johnny Gaudreau put out a quote, ‘Don’t get them be distracted by their size, get ’em distracted by your production,’ so I hope I can produce like him.”
Ryan Pike has covered the Calgary Flames and the NHL Draft extensively since 2010 as a Senior Writer for The Hockey Writers and Senior Contributing Editor of FlamesNation.ca. A member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, he lives in Calgary.