College Hockey is a route that many players born in the United States choose to take. It has its benefits, with the opportunity to stay close to home and get a college scholarship. Colorado Spring, Colorado native Jake Gricius had been settled on the NCAA route for quite awhile. He even committed to the Wenatchee Wild of the BCHL in late April of 2016 to keep his college eligibility. Then that summer, he received an unexpected opportunity in the form of a chance to play in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks. Out went those best laid plans, in favor of a whole new route to his goal of being taken in the NHL draft.
“I was committed to Wenatchee and that was where I was set to go because I was kind of still looking to go to college. There was a little player development thing in Colorado and (General Manager, Vice President and Head Coach) Mike (Johnston) and (Assistant General Manager Matt Bardsley) came to my house and talked about the organization and stuff and basically offered me a spot. If I was going to go to the WHL, I was only going to come to Portland because they develop guys so well and send them on their way. It was kind of a last minute decision, but I’m glad that I made it.”
Gricius, who is a six-foot-three, 188 pound center came into the WHL last year not knowing what to expect. While he did put up 10 goals and four assists for 14 points, there was a period of time where he was adjusting to the league and playing away form home.
“Last year was just all about getting used to the league and getting used to my teammates. Hopefully this year I can kind take off the way that Cody (Glass) did and just have really great year, put some points up and go as high as I can in the draft.”
One thing that stood out to him was professional everything was.
“It’s way more of a business than you get in any other league in the U.S. That’s one of the reasons that I came here. We get treated so well here and the game is just so fast. It really helps you develop for the NHL.”
Gricius, whose birthday is not until October, believes he benefited from not being eligible for the NHL draft until 2018, due to his late birth-date. He also got the opportunity to witness his friend’s meteoric rise to being selected sixth overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 draft.
“At the start of the season he was on the honorable mentions list and he was my roommate and always had good things to say. He’s someone I really look up to and going into my draft year, I hope to mirror what he did. Obviously he had a really great season, but hopefully I can do something like that.”
After a season of adjusting to the rigors of the league, Gricius had the chance, this summer to think about what he wants to do more of this coming season.
“Driving the net more and hopefully just making more plays. I will have a bit more playing time this year so it will be easier to do all that. Just making more plays.”
Gricius is hoping to become more of a household name around the draft circles with a big performance at the All American Prospects Game in Buffalo, New York on Thursday, September 21st. The game, which compiles the top U.S. born prospects for the NHL draft, is a great opportunity for him to showcase his talents on the national stage.
“When I found out that I was going, I had just got to Portland so I didn’t find out for a bit. I think my agent knew that it could happen but didn’t want to tell me and get my hopes up. I was really excited because I had heard that they called my old coach. Like a day later, I found out. It’s really exciting and a great opportunity.”
Gricius knows that this is a big chance to influence his draft stock and he is excited for that. “Just seeing how I match up against all the other American guys going in the draft. Just showing them what I can do. I am going to be the only Dub guy there so representing and just doing the best I can.”
With that last minute decision to come to Portland, Jake has gone from not being on the scouting radar at all, to being a projected third round draft pick and garnering an invite to a major draft-related event. Even if he can’t match the same trajectory his friend Cody took last year, there’s little doubt he’ll never regret changing his mind and coming to Portland.