The difference between a top NHL prospect and a young player on the fringe may be as small as two points.
Ivan Provorov led defensemen in the junior Western Hockey League last season with 73 points. He had been drafted No. 7 overall by Philadelphia and is playing his rookie season with the Flyers.
Macoy Erkamps, Provorov’s defensive partner with the Brandon (Manitoba) Wheat Kings, scored 71 points. Three years after being undrafted in 2013, Erkamps signed an entry-level contract with the Ottawa Senators and is two steps away from the NHL, playing with the Double-A Wichita Thunder.
Provorov is younger and more talented than Erkamps, and he played 10 fewer games for Brandon last year. But the minute difference in their statistics gives Erkamps, a 21-year-old Thunder rookie, reason to believe he’s emerging from the fringe.
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“I think he had a few more points than me in a little less games,” Erkamps said. “There was a time where he went away (to a tournament) and I kind of maintained my production and stuff. Yeah, I look at it and see how close I can be. Guys make it up to the NHL in different ways.
“I’m just going to work hard and hopefully get the call up there.”
Erkamps is the only Thunder player under contract with Ottawa, a fact that made it seem likely he would start the year with Triple-A Binghamton of the American Hockey League.
But the best call for Erkamps’ development was to send him to Wichita, where he would play extensively in his first experience with professional hockey. It seems to have paid off, as the 6-foot, 198-pound Erkamps has four points and a plus-five rating through six games.
Erkamps is practicing patience while watching several teammates promoted to Binghamton while he waits.
“Signing an NHL contract kind of sparked the motivation in that sort of way,” Erkamps said. “Knowing that you’re with an NHL club, there’s always an opportunity to be called up. But I’m not thinking too far ahead. I’m just going to play my game here and hopefully the cards fall.”
Being on the radar of an NHL franchise is simultaneously unlikely and unsurprising.
After going undrafted in 2013, Erkamps worked out in the Senators’ rookie camp, but they chose not to sign him. Erkamps’ prospect status was ignited again last year, when his 71 points more than doubled the previous season’s total of 31.
“I think I took my summer really seriously, and I think I had a really good start to the year,” Erkamps said. “I think confidence goes a long way with me. Also, we had a great team game there in Brandon. All the stars kind of lined up, and it ended up working out really well.”
Erkamps is attractive because of his dual-threat capabilities. He’s heavily involved on the offensive rush, but his defense has become game-changing. He combined for a plus-76 rating the last two years and is more proud of that statistic than of his scoring.
Erkamps has the statistics, the tools, the desire, the patience – and the contract – to become an NHL player. He’s watched teammates and friends promoted to Triple-A and hasn’t changed his perspective on his future.
“I’m just going to do the same thing every single day, and if my opportunity comes within the next week, then great,” Erkamps said. “But if it comes within the next month, I’m going to be prepared for it and I’m not going to change anything about the way I’m doing things down here.”
Tulsa at Thunder
- When: 7:05 p.m. Friday
- Where: Intrust Bank Arena
- Records: Tulsa 10-2-0-0, Thunder 4-2-0-0
- Broadcast: wichitathunder.com