As the 2020 NHL Draft approached, Zayde Wisdom started to become a name more recognizable in hockey circles throughout pro scouting. Hockey fans in Kingston had an interest in which team would select the homegrown player, as the thought of a player bound for professional hockey was already there.
The Philadelphia Flyers selected the Toronto, Ontario native as the first selection in the fourth round with the 94th pick. For a player who takes the game as seriously as Wisdom, the work has only just begun, as the solid two-way forward looks to continue his dream of playing in the NHL.
Related: Top 10 Dirtiest NHL Players
After scoring 15 goals and 53 points for the Toronto Jr Canadiens during the 2015-16 season, the Kingston Frontenacs selected him with the 73rd selection during the fourth round at the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. Playing around 220 pounds, the hulking forward decided to get leaner as he entered the OHL. While that may seem counterintuitive to some, he needed to be quicker and more agile as he began to play the game at a much higher speed. The confidence for a player his age to take on that thought process showed an early sign of the dedication being put forth in becoming the best athlete he could be.
Clearing a Trail in Kingston
Entering the OHL in the 2018-19 season, Wisdom knew it would be a challenge both physically and mentally as the level of competition rose. Always one of the larger players previously, he needed to make an adjustment. However, with a raw talent for seeing the game, an ability to be coached, and possession of a heavy shot, he was ready to make the jump.
While the stats wouldn’t necessarily jump out at scouts with 3 goals and 10 points, there were flashes of the physical game with a forecheck many coaches are envious of during the 60 games he appeared in. He scored his first OHL goal four games into the season, with the lone goal in a 4-1 loss to Mississauga Steelheads on Sept 30, 2018.
One thing that was noticeable early on and continues to this day is his effort and dedication to his craft. In London during his rookie season, longtime Frontenacs broadcaster Jim Gilchrist recalled a conversation expressing his maturity and approach to it. “He said then he was really going to work on his strength and building his upper body up over the summer. He even promised the trainer he would not recognize him when he came back. And that’s exactly what he did. It was that approach, already in his rookie year, he’s saying with a month or two left in the season that he knew he had to improve and what he had to do.”
Speaking with Wisdom after an early game last season in Kingston, he reiterated these very thoughts, showing he has clear goals in mind. “Summertime was an absolute grind every day. I was in the gym and on the ice working on body positioning, speed, and a lot of explosive stuff in the gym to get bigger and faster,” he recalled.
Gilchrist has seen many players drafted through Kingston with a high opinion on Wisdom’s chances to crack an NHL lineup. “I think Zayde has a really good shot at making the Flyers. The whole physical thing, when it comes down to it, he’s just aching to get in there. Especially with a team like Philly, I think you seem him get a chance.”
The longtime team broadcaster, however, understands there is still a big hill to climb: “The main thing will be consistency. Just really an approach to his game.”
The 2019-20 Draft Year
The 2019-20 season was a breakout season for the budding OHL star. Scoring in the second game of the season, the now more confident player had equaled his rookie goal total by the sixth game and was well on his way to a successful campaign helping the Frontenacs to a much improved season.
Some skeptics may point out playing with a player with the calibre of Shane Wright would help increase stats, but Wisdom was every bit the driver of a line that would ultimately see him and Wright team up with fellow 2020 draftee, Martin Chromiak of the LA Kings, whom they selected in the 5th round of the recent draft. “That really helped that he played with a player like Shane and with Marty too,” said Gilchrist. “He could see the creation he was making so that kind of helped his game too. It allowed him to think, ok, I can do this into the dirty corners and draw someone to me and then set it up to you, and I’ll take the hit and rely on the other person to finish.”
In fact, while Wright was away at the World Under-18 Championships for four games, Wisdom had two goals with nine shots while maintaining a strong two-way game. With the team struggling for wins early in the season (one in the first 19 games), it could be easy to feel sorry for yourself and the situation. But, much like his personality, he showed leadership and maintained a positive but serious attitude about getting better.
Frontenacs Associate Coach Luca Caputi recalled: “Going back to that period we were just looking for a win. For Zayde, he’s always led by example when the lights are on. A consistent player, he’s got a motor that doesn’t really stop so going back to that time it was hard to find positives, but he kept playing through adversity. I just remember being able to leave the rink thinking it was a good night for Zayde most games.”
Gilchrist noticed his leadership increasing throughout the season: “He was very mature by the end of last season, even though it was shortened up. He seemed to be one of the leaders on the team.”
A Captain Speaks
Frontenacs 2019-20 captain Jakob Brahaney was always impressed with the work ethic he saw. As a player just finishing a five-year OHL career, he has experience in working hard.
Speaking about his former teammate, the now-graduated defenceman said: “One of the biggest differences between his rookie season and the most recent was his confidence.” He added: “He always put in the hard work and coming into training camp this season; he just showed up with a don’t take no for an answer mentality. That helped him put the offensive side of his game together to complete his already strong work ethic and the defensive game he had established as a 16-year-old player.” Strong words coming from one of the more respected former players in the OHL.
Never one to shy away from the tougher side of the game, he is a willing combatant, and his willingness to help protect teammates is evident in every game. In an early-season contest against the Sarnia Sting, Wisdom took on a much larger defenceman, Marko Jokovljevic, after a legal but very aggressive hit on Wright. Giving up more than six inches in size didn’t phase the 5-foot-9 forward.
A Future to Philadelphia
The NHL has already recognized the potential a player with Wisdom’s drive can accomplish. Recently being named the winner of the EJ McGuire Award of Excellence has given hockey fans more a glimpse into the person he is beyond the hockey player. Gilchrist agrees to say, “Winning that award has brought some attention too. Fans have looked at the story, and really, his whole story is something else, and a lot more people are watching now.
Caputi has experience as a drafted player (2007 by Pittsburgh Penguins) and knows of the challenges of making the NHL that Wisdom faces moving forward. Recalling after his draft he says, “Understanding that the OHL is the best development league in the world and to learn from it and soak it in. But also understanding progression to the NHL is very difficult because they are a lot of great players looking for every opportunity that you want. You have to be prepared daily. It’s really eye-opening how prepared and professional everything is in the NHL.”
He was proud to hear of the Flyers selection. “It was great how his season went and how’s he’s developed from a young player to a prospect for an NHL team,” added Caputi. “A lot of times this is just the start of some player’s progression to the best league in the world. For his confidence, it’s great along with all the thankless jobs people have done for him along the way, it’s a great token to them. Now it’s up to him to continue.”
He can see Wisdom in a variety of roles but one he will still have to carve himself. “Any player wants to play as Top-6 forward and on the power play, he said. “That’s the reality of the sport. I think he’s real versatile and that will help him play anywhere in the lineup and give you the same effort. You know what you’re getting every night. There is a high ceiling with his offensive success last season. We will count on him for offence that goes without saying. He’ll be a go-to guy for us. He can produce, be physical and be a leader.”
If hard work and dedication are two of the key factors to having a successful career in the NHL, it’s safe to say that the future for Zayde Wisdom is bright. I’m not sure he could’ve gone to a better place for a player of his ability. As a Washington Capitals follower, I reluctantly look forward to seeing the forecheck and relentless play in the NHL for the rival Flyers.