Noah Gregor broke into the Western Hockey League as a fresh-faced 16-year-old after leading the Alberta Midget Hockey League in scoring the previous year. He seemed poised for a strong rookie season. He had a good start, generating five points in his first eight games. Then he broke his collarbone and missed the bulk of the remainder of the season.
While last year’s setback might have derailed the progress of other prospects, it has seemingly created a “perfect storm” of positive circumstances for Gregor. The specific combination of that injury, his Moose Jaw teammates and the system devised by head coach Tim Hunter have meshed together to potentially allow Gregor to become one of the WHL’s better lesser-known draft prospects. With teammates Zach Sawchenko and Brett Howden more in the limelight with National Hockey Legue scouts, Gregor has been able to toil away on improving his game without as much attention on him.
“If you compare the ice time that Howden had compared to him – and Howden was at the U18 world championships, at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, so lots of hockey – and Gregor missed almost a whole year and to be caught up and have had a real good year is impressive,” said Hunter. “And that’s a testament to him putting a lot of time in when he was hurt and then when he was healthy more time and hard work all summer.”
When you watch Gregor play, the one thing that sticks out is how much he doesn’t stick out despite his relative inexperience in major junior. Compare him to seasoned WHLers in all three zones and there isn’t very much of a drop-off, and he’s still improving. He’s an intelligent 200-foot player and plays a very up-tempo game, utilizing his skating and intelligence to get himself into the right positions on the ice. He was already a skilled offensive player from his days in bantam and midget, but he’s improved his all-around game playing within the Warriors system.
“Tim lets us free-wheel in the offensive zone,” said Gregor. “We have a lot of skilled guys that are able to play that type of game, but he wants us to be reliable in our own zone. He’s really been good at giving the top guys chances to penalty kill and get out there in opportunities where we’re down and need a stop. He’s given us lots of opportunities to be defensive and it’s helped my defensive game a lot.”
While missing as much time as he did as a rookie was definitely not ideal, a nice side effect of his absence from the Warriors line-up has been allowing Gregor to focus on making adjustments to be a productive WHL player rather than obsessing over the upcoming NHL Draft.
“I don’t think I put much thought into the draft just cause all the time I did miss, I probably didn’t get too much looks from NHL guys,” said Gregor. “So I think I was a little under the radar, which is nice so I could just focus on my own game.”
Aside from his skill and adaptability – he’s quietly become one of the Warriors’ most dangerous and useful players – Gregor also has some strong hockey bloodlines that make him an attractive commodity to NHL teams. He’s one of the youngest players in the draft class, turning 18 in July. His father is Colin Gregor, who played four seasons (1987-91) in the WHL, and his coach is Hunter, an 800-game NHL veteran and former Stanley Cup champion, so he’s likely extremely aware of the challenges of making it at the next level. The only knocks on Gregor thus far are his relative lack of size – he’s listed at 6′ and 180 pounds by the WHL – and his small sample size at the major junior level; both are likely reasons he was the 75th-ranked North American skater in the NHL Central Scouting Service’s midterm rankings.
“We knew he had the skill level, and the speed and talent, but he’s really come on and it’s a testament to how hard he’s worked,” said Hunter. “The body of work will tell the tale at the end of the day, and that’ll be at the end of the year and when the draft rolls around and where he shakes out. Scouts do a lot of work and watch a lot of hockey players. He’s just getting in their radar and he’ll start slowly moving up even higher.”
If he keeps improving and helping the Warriors win key games, there’s a good chance that he’ll find himself significantly higher in their final rankings in the spring.
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.