Michael Milne begins his quest for a Memorial Cup a little earlier than his teammates. Milne’s the Winnipeg ICE representative for the CHL Memorial eCup beginning November 28, a chance for him to get into a competitive mindset entering his draft year.
The 64-player eSports tournament features players from all 60 CHL teams plus four hockey personalities as guest participants facing off in EA Sports NHL ’21. One of the special guests is Sportsnet draft analyst Sam Cosentino. The draft guru is looking forward to competing against and getting to know the young players in the tournament, though he admits his gaming skills could be out-of-date.
“I was pretty good at [NHL] ’94 on Sega Genesis,” Cosentino said.
Milne says the ICE are filled with talented gamers, saying netminder Gage Alexander is his favourite opponent to match up against. Milne opens the tourney in the first game against the Sarnia Stings’ Justin O’Donnell, and Milne wants to send a message early.
“I plan on being physical early and setting the tone by scoring the first goal,” Milne said.
Milne will need to set the tone and get a fast start when the WHL resumes to impress NHL scouts. Milne, a late 2002-born winger, projects to be one of the oldest players entering the 2021 NHL Draft. The Abbotsford, BC native is entering his third WHL season and he’ll have to continue to evolve under challenging circumstances.
The best way to start is to show up at training camp in top condition. With the extended offseason the WHL has endured, players have had lots of time to heal up and get fit for camp. Cosentino believes nothing will turn away NHL scouts like a player who isn’t ready to play.
“If you’re out of shape, there’s zero excuse,” Cosentino said.
Milne enjoyed a great sophomore season, scoring 13 goals with 33 points, good for seventh on the ICE. He believes Winnipeg can win the Memorial Cup and wants his development to help them reach that goal.
“I want to work on my 200-foot game [and] my puck protection in board battles,” said Milne.
Cosentino sees Milne as an extremely confident player who’s a threat below the circles because of his quick thinking, soft hands, and solid positioning.
“He seems to have the really innate ability to make those [in-tight] decisions and that comes from confidence,” said Cosentino.
TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button also sees the above attributes in Milne’s game. However, from his years scouting prospects, he’s seen many players lose sight of what makes them good in search of more points. He’s hopeful Milne doesn’t fall into that trap.
“If he gets too focused in on scoring, he’s going to lose the essence of his game,” Button said.
Button said a player he thought of when looking at Milne is Carolina’s Warren Foegele. Foegele had a rough-post draft year at the University of New Hampshire, bringing concerns about the third-round selection. The Hurricanes worked with him and reminded him about the defensive abilities that made them select him. Now, Foegele is a defensive stud on a Hurricanes team set to compete for the Stanley Cup.
Nothing will be more important for Milne than to play his game and not let the scouts’ presence stress him out. They’re watching him to see what he can do, not if he plays a certain way. Milne’s best chance of getting drafted is working on his game instead of stat watching.
“If you’re a guy going lower in the draft, you can present a skill set that’s a little different,” Cosentino said.
“Teams are made up of a lot of different players,” said Button. “Not everyone can be a Mark Scheifele or a Kyle Connor.”
It is possible that Milne goes undrafted, even if he has a good season like teammate Owen Pederson did last year. The draft is only one stretch of the road to the NHL, though, and it’s important that Milne remembers that.
“If you fail a test in school, you don’t drop out,” Button said. “You have to keep your long-term goals in mind.”
Michael Milne has a chance to be something special if he works as hard as he plays. He wants to get to the highest level and win when he gets there.
“I’m a hard-working guy who loves to compete and battle,” said Milne. “I love improving my game every day and will do anything for my team to win.”
For Milne to win his way onto an NHL team, he’ll have to play this upcoming season like he’ll play as the Winnipeg ICE representative for the CHL Memorial eCup: fast and hard.