Coming into training camp this fall, there were several questions about the make-up of the new Battlefords North Stars roster, especially considering there was a brand new coaching staff and more than 10 player departures.
One of those questions was who would centre Layne Young on the top line, who had proven to be a prolific scorer in his first two seasons.
Entering camp, new head coach Brandon Heck admits he was concerned about that position, based on video he had seen of possible candidates.
And even after MacGregor Sinclair won the top job, Heck wasn't quite fully convinced, at least not right away.
"Early on, he struggled his first few games and then kind of got going and I was still not a believer," Heck said after practice on Thursday. "But I'm a full-fledged believer right now. All the credit to him. He put the work in."
If you're not a full-fledged believer in MacGregor Sinclair after 20 games, you may need a wake-up call.
The Irma, Alta. native is currently tenth in Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League scoring with 28 points in just 20 games. His 1.40 points-per-game are ranked sixth-best league-wide, for players that have played at least 10 games.
"Obviously playing with Young helps. He gets the puck to me and gives me a lot of time and space," Sinclair said after Thursday's practice. "A little more confidence too. Last year I came in as a rookie and now I know how the league works and it's a little easier to know what to expect every night."
In addition to crediting Young and his other winger Dakota Huebner, Sinclair also gave a shout-out to trainer Adam Huxley for helping him work on fundementals over the summer.
And although a good portion of his offensive success was credited to his new linemates, Heck points out that not just anyone can play with Young and find success.
"It's not easy to play with guys like [Young] becasue too many guys just want to pass him the puck, yet Sinclair can hold on and draw time for him too," Heck said. "He thinks at a high level. He thinks on Layne Young's level. They compliment each other."
The 19-year-old Sinclair was pinned into a defensive role as a rookie last season, playing third-line centre under then head coach Nate Bedford.
He was extremely effective, especially on the penalty kill (he led the team with three shorthanded points), but only scored 22 points in 50 games on the season as a whole.
"He just was never really put in a spot to be a scorer or a points guy last year," Young said, who has assisted on nine of Sinclair's 12 goals so far this season. "I knew when roles changed he was going to be good...He put in a lot of work this summer and he came a long way since last year.
"His shot is probably one of the best in the league when he gets a chance to get it off."
This year, Sinclair's 12 goals are already double his rookie total of six. The 12 goals are tied for the fifth-best in the SJHL. He is also tied for second on the North Stars in power play goals with five, the fifth-highest total in the SJHL.
Often times, he has been able to find the back of the net because of his much-improved shot.
"I know he shot a ton of pucks this summer," Heck said. "He knows how to hide his release and get it off quick, so two things that elite goal scorers have, he has."
Sinclair is also two-for-three in shootouts. He has four game-winning-goals, tied for the league lead. He even has a shorthanded point.
"Knowing Sinclair, he wants it bad," Heck added. "He's motivated and driven and wants to be the guy. I think that's half the battle. How much work he put it on the skill development in the summer surely compliments that [drive]. He's got a lot of good skills that I think are underappreciated. He sets picks and makes his linemates better."
The top line of Young, Sinclair and Huebner have absolutely turned heads this season. Early on, Heck was constantly getting questions about the lack of secondary scoring, but with the top line's tremendous success, the wins kept coming, so it didn't seem to matter.
Gradually, other players, like Matthias Urbanski, have started to find their scoring touch, but even now, the top line still has 46 per cent of the team's goals (34 of 74), not including shootout goals.
"I don't know if there's a secret [to our success]," Huebner said. "I think it's just we go out there, talk a lot, find each other open. Just get open and find each other."
Easier said than done, surely.
But as long as the trio continues to find things so simple, it'll only mean good things for the club, who has a better record this season through 20 games (16-3-1) than they did last year (15-5).
And the better news? Sinclair has another year left of junior eligibility, which is why a scholarship isn't really on his mind, at least not yet.
"I've put a little thought into it but that's not really what the focus is right now," he said. "I think if we work and get to where we want to be as a team, stuff will work out in the end for everyone."
Young, for what it's worth, believes Sinclair has quite a high ceiling.
"Oh he can for sure go Div-1. For sure," Young said. "I'm positive. I just know he's going to get it."
Not yet, though. For now, the North Stars are more than happy to have Sinclair continue to obliterate his rookie point totals.
On Twitter: @NathanKanter11
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