Sports

How David Goyette blazed his way to the top of the 2022 NHL Draft

LANDSHUT, Germany — The first time Rob Papineau saw David Goyette play hockey, he was standing in a London, Ont., rink scouting the Wendy Dufton Memorial Tournament, one of the biggest minor hockey events of every season.

Goyette was the little kid with the weird background, one which shrouded him — and his future — in mystery. He was born in Quebec, he was now living in Eastern Ontario, but he was playing for the Connecticut-based South Kent School Selects Academy.

So not only had those in attendance not seen as much of him as they had his peers, but they weren’t even sure if he was going to go take the OHL, QMJHL or NCAA paths that were all available to him.

But it didn’t take long for Papineau, the general manager of the Sudbury Wolves, to realize he needed to do everything he could to pull him in his direction.

“When you’re as good as David was, you have a lot of options,” Papineau said. “That was definitely something that he had earned.”

And there was another problem: Papineau was surrounded by scouts, clad in their black jackets, and they could all see what he could.

“He’s one of those guys where you see him play a shift and he just jumps off the ice with his speed. He just kind of controlled everything at that level. He was a little bit smaller at that time but we knew, just because I was standing next to a gentleman who pointed out his father, that his dad was a big man, 6-foot-3, with broad shoulders. And he didn’t have facial hair, where some kids do, and that can honestly indicate if they’re going to grow or they’re done growing, and so we knew he was going to come along that way,” Papineau said. “But just his speed, and his vision, and the way he controlled the game, it really did look like he was an 18-year-old playing with 15-year-olds out there.”

From that point on, the Wolves set their sights on Goyette as their first-round target for the 2020 OHL draft, following him closely through to the Silver Stick Tournament.

When the draft came, Goyette had posted 153 points in 65 games with South Kent Academy. And though the Wolves held the 11th selection, Goyette ranked atop their board.

Unsure of whether he’d be available when it was their turn, they made their pitch to Goyette, his family, and his advisor, Octagon’s Andy Scott, nonetheless.

There was the classic OHL case — the one that sells the best junior league in the world, with its pro-like schedule, as the surest preparation for a next level that is getting younger and younger. There was a year-by-year plan for each of Goyette’s seasons in Sudbury as means to guide him out of the OHL and directly into the NHL. There was a track record of developing top prospects within a successful program, fresh off a Central Division title built around top 2020 NHL Draft prospect Quinton Byfield. And there was a clear local angle: Sudbury is a bilingual community.

Now they wanted to rebuild again and they wanted to do it around Goyette.

Two years later, after they got their guy and he chose the OHL, nothing about the way he got from Point A (the OHL draft) to Point B (the NHL draft) went quite as expected. The Wolves’ season-by-season plan for him went out the window when the OHL cancelled his 16-year-old campaign due to the pandemic. When he tried to find somewhere else to play during his lost year, he was swiftly booted out of the league.

But Goyette’s destination — the top of the 2022 draft class — remains the same.

As his belated rookie season wrapped up, he’d emerged as a bonafide star and potential first-round pick, leading all OHL rookies in goals (33) and points (73), with 11 more goals and 23 more points than his nearest teammate.

“He’s on that path right now as a guy who should come through junior and be able to really quickly adjust to pro hockey. He’s hitting all of the buckets that we assumed he was going (to hit),” Papineau said.

By the time Goyette was in Germany competing for Canada at the U18 World Championships — another checkpoint in his and Sudbury’s plan — he’d sold the hockey world just like he’d sold Papineau all those years earlier.

With speed.


Before Goyette ever played his first game of organized hockey, his dad, Mike, after a move from the Montreal suburb of Saint-Jerome to the Montreal suburb of Mirabel, put his oldest of three sons into a different sport on the ice: speed skating.

“I learned to skate doing speed skating. That’s kind of how I picked it up really,” David said. “And then when I switched to hockey I was just always pretty much the fastest guy everywhere I’d go.”

A decade after picking up speed skating, while David’s hockey-playing peers split their time between lifting weights in the gym and hours-upon-hours on the ice, Mike would drive him from their new home in Hawkesbury, Ont., an hour east of Ottawa, back to Montreal so he could train not with a strength coach but with Olympic track runner and four-time national 100-metre champion Nicolas Macrozonaris’ running club, Club Vainqueurs Plus.

Today, if you watch David closely, you can see the signs of his background in both speed skating (which he did competitively for a few years) and track and field.

You can see the former in the look of his skating.

“You see the long strides and that’s all the speed skating,” Mike said.

You can see the latter in his ability to quickly accelerate and change directions.

“His skating just keeps getting better and better and better,” Papineau said. “Even coming in here (this year), he was like ‘Rob, I’ve been working on my skating, I’ve been working on my feet, and I think I’m even faster.’ And then he has just been flying ever since training camp. And the thing about David is it’s not just an ability to skate fast in a straight line, it’s really about his ability to control a puck and shift left and right in tight spaces. His agility and his mobility (are) exceptional at a high speed. In tight spaces, he can get out of them in a hurry. And that has really helped him playing against bigger guys in our league because he’ll get in, he’ll get pucks, and he’ll compete against anybody.”


(Ryan Lefebvre / OHL Images)

Though David is only listed at 5-foot-10.5 and 172 pounds, he has always been a natural athlete who has excelled even above and beyond his high-level peers on the ice and the track.

Some of it is genetic. Mike is a Navy veteran who grew up playing football and, after completing his years of service in Vancouver, returned to Quebec to pursue Olympic boxing after meeting revered Canadian boxing coach Stéphan Larouche. Though he never got to live out his Olympic dream, Mike boxed competitively in bars, participated in the Jeux de la Francophonie for Team Quebec, and won the World Police and Fire Games in Indianapolis in 2001 (he remains a firefighter in Montreal).

“I’m a tough guy, OK?” Mike said on a recent phone call, laughing. “And I was good. I was a good boxer. And I have always been an advocate of training and living a healthy life. That’s how I lived with my three boys. I always told David, ‘You’re a super athlete. If you decide to play any sport that you want, you’re going to make it because before you’re a hockey player, you’re a super athlete.’”

Though none of the three boys became boxers (Sean Matthew, the youngest, plays AAA hockey, and Christopher, the middle boy, is a competitive swimmer), they sometimes spar with their dad, too.

“It’s a really good workout,” David said. “I’ve seen a few videos of (Mike) boxing and it’s pretty funny. He’s really good at it, though.”

But much of his athleticism is trained, too.

“It’s something I always work on,” David said.

“He’s one of the best athletes and hardest workers I’ve seen in all my life,” added Mike. “He could have been an elite boxer. He could have been an elite anything because he puts his work into it and he’s a natural.”

The work he does with Macrozonaris on speed development isn’t very common among hockey players, either. Though Macrozonaris has trained some other NHL players and prospects (namely Joe Veleno, Daniel Sprong, Jakub Voracek and Jiri Hudler), the running club is made up predominantly of athletes from other sports (including football and baseball) these days.

Macrozonaris says “a lot of people just don’t know about the importance of speed development in hockey,” and insists the energy systems of a hockey player and a sprinter are similar in many ways because they both have to be “very explosive, very powerful, very quick, but have the fitness so that your rate of recovery is within two minutes and you can repeat the same effort.”

David made fast progress on all fronts.

“Over time he has developed some very good, quality muscle tissues in his fast twitch. What differentiates him from a lot of athletes is his ability to put in the work and execute what needs to be done. That’s something that I think is remarkable. He deserves it. I can’t say nothing bad about working with David,” Macrozonaris said. “It was a big commitment for David and Mike because they were coming from quite a distance in Ontario. And he was very easy to coach and was a model athlete in a sense, where he was listening, doing it properly, and putting in the effort to execute the exercises with intensity. And he was reaping the benefits of the work that we were doing.”

The results — which are products of both his variety and the way Macrozonaris has helped him transfer skills from track and field to the ice — are undeniable.

At the testing combine held at this year’s CHL Top Prospects Game, Goyette produced a top-five time in four different speed-based drills (including a weaving drill, a reaction drill, and a transition drill) and was named the third-best overall performer for the entirety of the combine.


While it now feels like David was always destined to get here, to the world stage in Germany at the end of a standout OHL season which made him a candidate for the NHL Draft’s first round, there were several moments along the way that could have led him down a different path.

In his early days of minor hockey, though David was always a top player on his team, he wasn’t always the best player on the various all-star teams he played on — travelling with teams his dad helped put together to the famed Brick Tournament in Edmonton, or to the Quebec International Peewee Tournament, to playing alongside top 2004-born players like Noah Warren, Maveric Lamoureux, Antonin Verreault, Tristan Luneau (who’d become a No. 1 pick into the QMJHL) and later Ty Nelson (who’d become a No. 1 pick into the OHL).

In time, though, if he didn’t surpass them, he always caught up to them.

“He knew that there was guys that were better than him but he always did what he could to become as good as them,” Mike said. “He has it in him to be the best.”

Through his bouncing around between Quebec, Ontario and then finally Connecticut, he was also forced to grow up faster than most kids his age. That began at South Kent, where he said not having billets and learning to live with his teammates in the school’s dorms helped him become quite independent.

That independence required him to learn a new language when he moved to Hawkesbury at 13, too.

“When they moved to Hawkesbury from Quebec, he didn’t speak any English. And now, he sounds like English is his first language and he speaks as fluently as you and I, and that’s only a few years ago,” Papineau said. “And that’s because everything he does he excels at, whether it’s hockey or learning a new language. He’s just an impressive young man.”

His independence also helped him make some important decisions along the way, not the least of which was whether he was even going to go the OHL route.

Before the Wolves selected David, Mike had actually tried to veer him down the college path. That got as far as a full-ride scholarship offer from Boston University.

“I always told him Plan A is school and Plan B is hockey,” Mike said. “But he told me ‘Dad, for you Plan A was always school but my Plan A is hockey.’ So I said ‘Well, you’re old enough to decide, that’s your choice.’”

Even after he made the decision to go the OHL route, there was consideration once the pandemic broke out as to whether he should go play in the USHL. That got as far as the Tri-City Storm drafting him, and conversations between the Goyettes, Scott, the OHL and Hockey Canada about whether he could go south.

When the OHL and Hockey Canada wouldn’t let him because the deadline had passed (in part because he was waiting for the OHL to return), Goyette joined the P.A.L. Junior Islanders in the National Collegiate Development Conference of the USPHL (a junior league based out of the Eastern U.S.) at their bubble in Tampa Bay for a month as a last-ditch effort to get into games.

But after posting six points in four games, rival teams complained about his eligibility, convened a meeting in Tampa, argued he had to be pursuing college to play, and threw him out of the league.

“I was a pretty good player and they saw that I had a contract in the OHL, so they kicked me out of there,” David said, smiling and chuckling. “So I had to come right back after that. That was pretty funny. Last year was a weird year.”


(Ryan Lefebvre / OHL Images)

Following what Mike called a “disaster” in Tampa, David joined his local Jr. A team, the Hawkesbury Hawks. The Hawks had drafted him back in 2019 with the No. 4 pick in the CCHL Bantam Protected Draft and the league was launching what it called a “development scrimmage series,” a two-stint exhibition schedule that played first in November and December of 2020, and then again in February and March of 2021.

Though the games don’t appear on his Hockey DB or Elite Prospects pages, David scored seven goals and 12 points in 12 games for Hawkesbury (both of which led the team in scoring despite being its youngest forward by two years) in a pair of series against the Rockland Nationals and the Cornwall Colts.

From afar, Papineau kept tabs as David made his mark.

“Talking to (Hawks head coach and general manager) Rick Dorval, he said he was an unbelievable kid in practice, he listens, he works hard. There was no maintenance with him at all. He just came to the rink every day and played hockey and in a season that wasn’t really an official season and he was supposed to be in Sudbury, he approached it like he was and just got on the ice and did the best he could with the guys he was playing with,” Papineau said. “There were nothing but good things said about him.”

After all of that, David wasn’t initially expected to be a first-round pick into the NHL, either. When NHL Central Scouting released its players to watch list in the fall, he was given a ‘B’ rating, which “indicates a 2nd/3rd round candidate.” At midseason, they ranked him 35th among North American skaters.

That began to change after David made a Christmas Day phone call to thank him for what he’d done for him in the first half and promise a breakout second half.

When he returned, he delivered on that promise, exploding down the stretch to produce the biggest moments of the Wolves’ season.

Papineau can rattle them all off.

A four-goal game in an 8-4 win over the talked-about Kingston Frontenacs on a nationally televised game on TSN. A huge hit to separate his man from the puck, take it to the middle of the ice, and score to deliver a second big win over those Frontenacs. A recent win against the OHL’s best team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, where he took on the league’s meanest player, Arber Xhekaj, in the corner, drew a double-minor penalty which helped the Wolves tie the game, and then scored the winner on a breakaway in overtime.

“He’s a guy that brings all the elements. And just when you talk to him, he’s a hockey sponge. I’ve had different NHL teams tell me about their interviews where David’s talking to them about the system their team plays because he’s a student of the game and he watches it and studies them. He’ll be out watching our affiliate, the Sudbury Cubs, just to be in the rink. He just loves the game,” Papineau said. “And I look back on that conversation (at Christmas) and it wasn’t just him making a call to talk to me. It was him planning for his moment and then he has gone on to do it.”

David and Papineau both have big plans for what comes next, too.

Papineau hopes his leading scorer will take on a leadership role next season and help the Wolves get back into the playoffs.

“Everything about him he does at an elite level. That jumps out at me when you’re a young guy. He’s a guy that leads by example. He’s a well-liked teammate. He’s very personable, he’s very humble, he’s had some really good success in this game at a young age and he doesn’t come off that way at all. He’s very appreciative of everybody’s time and very respectful,” Papineau said.

For David, this season was just the beginning. After Germany, he hopes to see his NHL Central Scouting ranking rise once more in advance of his draft day. Because the 2022 draft is being held in Montreal, he’s also going to have a big crowd of family and friends on hand.

After the draft, he plans to get back in the gym with his brothers and on the track with Macrozonaris to do what he loves to do most: get faster.

Papineau’s not sure that’s possible, but he doesn’t doubt his ambition.

“One thing I love about David is his drive to continue to get better,” Papineau finished. “That’s something that has stuck with me on him. You look at the second half that this guy has had and it has been unbelievable. He has been on fire. I had one NHL scout tell me he’s the hottest guy for draft eligibles in the CHL since the New Year. And that’s just the commitment he made.”

With reporting in Kitchener, Ont.

(Top photo: Luke Durda / CHL Images)

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