Prince Albert Raiders centre Cole Fonstad took advantage of his team giving him the opportunity to play more and more minutes as the 2016-17 season went on. As a 16-year-old, last year, he potted 19 of his 26 total points in the second half of the season. Fonstad credits the increase in chances he was given for his impressive run as a young rookie in the last half of the year. “I was getting more confident and I was getting more opportunities, too. When that happens you are going to produce more,” Fonstad said.
With that increase in confidence, the 5-foot-10, 162-pound play-making forward entered the off-season with the goal of getting better at the physical parts of the game. “I need to get stronger and faster. I need to play with more of edge. I need to finish all my checks and play tougher to get to the next level. I’m a smaller guy, so you can’t sit on the outside all the time. I think I just need to improve that aspect of my game and hopefully everything works out in the end.”
Fonstad already has seven goals and 20 assists for 27 points, in 22 games this year. That is more than he put up over 69 games a season ago. He is already accomplishing a big goal of his, by playing a lot on the Raider top line with Jordy Stallard and Parker Kelly and being relied upon to produce on a consistent basis. “I wanted to contribute more and be more of a go-to guy. I think I’ve done that so far, but I think I need to keep improving and keep building. I don’t expect much out of myself numbers-wise, I just want to play the right way.”
Getting to play with an NHL-drafted guy in Stallard (Winnipeg in 2015) and an NHL-signed guy in Kelly (Ottawa), has given him the chance to hear about what being part of an NHL camp is like and see two very different paths to an NHL team. Stallard was drafted by Winnipeg and is trying to earn a contract from them this year and Kelly was undrafted but signed out of Ottawa Senators camp this summer. Fonstad was excited to see Kelly’s hard work get noticed. “I think that’s a really good example of how much the draft means. You can still go undrafted and if you work as hard as anyone and earn your way up there. He had a good opportunity going to Ottawa’s camp and all he had to do was showcase himself and work hard and he ended up earning a contract. Everyone is really proud of him for that. He really deserves it.”
Fonstad is getting more and more interest the more productive he becomes at the WHL level. He is rated No. 53 by Future Considerations and was a “C” rated skater in November’s NHL Central Scouting list. He is working hard at not allowing the talk of him being drafted in June to break his focus on his play this year.
“A little bit. You see people talking but you try to push it away and try to focus on your game. If that stuff gets in your head then you are going to stop playing the way that you can.”
Fonstad, who is from Estevan, Sask., was taken by Prince Albert with the fifth-overall pick in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft. He knew that he was on their radar, but was not expecting to be taken so high.
“I had talked with them a few times but they had never told me that they were taking me for sure or anything. So it was a bit of a surprise for me. It’s worked out well.”
Being taken by a team that was only six hours away and playing so many games near his hometown was an added bonus to being taken by the Raiders.
“I hadn’t really been much in Prince Albert but all the teams down south – Regina and Moose Jaw. I had been to a lot of their games. So I knew what the division was about. Staying close to home is nice too. Going to Prince Albert was really nice too. It’s a great city to play in and live in. It’s close to Moose Jaw, Regina and Brandon. It’s only about two hours from those places. My family gets out a lot. My Mom makes it to a lot of games, my Dad not as much. Lots of my aunts and uncles and Grandma and Grandpa get to come too, so that’s great.”
Estevan is important to him and he was able to play one game for the SJHL’s Estevan Bruins as a 15-year-old. This was a major career highlight for him. “It’s a Junior A league and it’s actually my hometown team. It was really cool because it’s my hometown team. It was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had playing hockey. Growing up and watching that team that I idolized as a kid. Getting to play there in front of all of my family and friends was really cool. I scored a goal as well. That was a really cool experience.”
Fonstad continues to produce when given the opportunity to play and is increasingly becoming more and more of that go-to guy for his squad. After playing so much as a 16-year-old on a team that struggled and missed the playoffs, he and Raiders are looking to take that next step and experience the WHL playoffs this year.