When Ethan Samson’s name was announced as the Philadelphia Flyers’ sixth-round pick at the NHL’s virtual draft proceedings there was no walk to the stage to meet the team brass and try on a Flyers jersey.
It was all done online.
He still doesn’t have a single piece of clothing to signify he’s now Flyers’ property but that doesn’t matter to the 17-year-old Prince George Cougars defenceman. Give him a year or two and he’ll probably be sporting that familiar Philly logo on his sneakers, and maybe even his underwear.
Now that he’s drafted, he’s got work to do before he can start making a living as professional hockey player. But he plans to be ready to roll with the changes sure to come his way when he heads to Pennsylvania in less than a month for the Flyers’ development camp.
“I just want to show myself and prove myself, that I can be a player that they will want to have in the organization in the future,” said Samson. “I just want to play my game and do what I know I can do to try to show them that it was worth picking me as a late pick in the sixth round.
“I grew up a Blackhawks fan but started switching to the Canucks more recently in the last few years. Philly was never a team I cheered for, but it was never a team I had anything against. It’s super-exciting to go to an organization like that.”
The Flyers’ camp starts Aug. 21 and runs through Sept. 3. The NHL camp and rookie tournament will be over by the time the Cats convene for training camp in Prince George on Sept. 9.
Samson was home in North Delta with his parents, Terri and Shawn, and younger sister on draft day last Saturday and while tuned in to the NHL telecast he admits it was a little uncomfortable seeing all those names picked ahead of him. He was the 174th pick on a list of 224 drafted players.
“I was getting a little nervous, I mean, it’s something I always dreamed of as a kid and I was getting a little nervous as rounds were getting later, but I knew if it didn’t happen it wasn’t the end of the world,” he said. “There’s a lot of ways you can make it to the professional hockey level.”
Samson wowed the scouts early in an abbreviated 2021 WHL season that lasted just 22 games for the Cougars. Playing in the pandemic BC Division bubble in Kamloops and Kelowna, he heard the rumblings that they were interested and talked to a few NHL teams, but not the Flyers.
Samson took a giant leap forward from his seven-point, 61-game rookie season in 2019-20. Strong and feisty when he’s defending, the North Delta Academy/Burnaby Winter Club product showed opponents he’s not much fun to be around when they go to the net but also showed exceptional skating ability joining the rush with the instincts to recognize when to take off with the puck. That led to one goal and 11 assists in those 22 games as one of the top point-producing defencemen in the WHL.
“I think the long off-season and training with older guys all the time helped me build that confidence to go into the season with and be able to just know what I can do and play my game,” he said. “It was a big off-season for me, having that extended time to focus on what I needed to work on - getting bigger, faster and stronger. Even training with my coaches last year through that off-season was a big help to help me prepare to take that jump.”
This summer he’s been staying in shape for hockey, training four days per week in the gym and on the ice for skating sessions three times every week. He also works in the warehouse of a store that sells beds and moving mattresses all day keeps his muscles toned.
Samson credits Cougar coaches Mark Lamb and Jason Smith, both former defencemen who played in the NHL, for speeding up his progress as a major junior mainstay.
“It’s awesome having them as my coaches, they know the game really well, obviously, so it’s easy to talk to them about things and get their insight on what I need to do and things to work on,” said Samson. “I want to show the coaches that they can rely on me and put me in those hard situations and I can succeed in them.”
The Cougars haven’t made the WHL playoffs since 2017 and Samson says it’s time for that drought to end.
“I think we’re going to have a really strong an make that playoff push if it happens and we’re going to be a threat to the B.C. Division this year.”
Cougars’ 20-year-old goalie Taylor Gauthier also plans to attend an NHL development camp this summer with at least two teams interested in his services.