In the moments after Ethan Miedema’s dynamic four-goal outing that kept the Kingston Frontenacs’ playoff hopes alive, coach Luca Caputi could see the relief on the youngster’s face.
“It looked to me like the weight of the world came off his shoulders,” Caputi said of the Buffalo Sabres wing prospect.
For a season and a half, Miedema cut his teeth on the Windsor Spitfires, scoring 25 goals for the Ontario Hockey League powerhouse. He fit in nicely in a deep forward corps and projected to be perhaps a second-round pick in the NHL Draft.
Then on Jan. 9, the Spitfires sent the 6-foot-4, 209-pound Miedema to Kingston as a major piece of the blockbuster Shane Wright trade.
“It was definitely kind of a shock,” Miedema said June 29 in Nashville after the Sabres drafted him in the fourth round, 109th overall. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”
Miedema had trouble adjusting to his new surroundings – “He’s a 17-year-old kid that got caught off guard,” Caputi said – and struggled to produce offense. He scored his first goal for the Frontenacs in his ninth game and his second in his 26th.
“At the end of the day, they’re young teenagers that are still learning life in general,” Caputi said. “Yeah, it would affect anyone, I would think. For him, we played a completely different system than … Windsor.”
Miedema finally grew comfortable in mid-March as Kingston pushed for a playoff spot. He scored in consecutive games to ignite a torrid stretch in which he would compile eight goals in the final seven contests.
On March 22, his 18th birthday, he scored four times – one more goal than he had in his first 29 appearances with Kingston – in a critical 6-2 win over the Oshawa Generals.
“That was a massive game,” said Caputi, whose team ultimately missed the playoffs by one point. “We lose that game, the last two games don’t matter.”
What changed for Miedema late in the season? After two months, he said he found a “rhythm.” He also began playing more aggressively.
“It was a mindset where he was going to attack and lay it all on the line,” Caputi said. “Confidence mirrors that.”
Miedema scored twice in the season finale, giving him 20 goals and 52 points in 68 total games. He recorded his first 11 goals in 36 appearances with Windsor.
If he had stayed there, he might’ve avoided a long slump and kept his draft stock high.
“I’m surprised he (fell),” Jerry Forton, Buffalo’s director of amateur scouting, said following the draft. “I think that trade played into it and that lull he had after the trade probably dropped a kid that should have been a second-round pick to the fourth round.”
Forton said Miedema possesses some of the same talents as Anton Wahlberg, a 6-foot-3 forward the Sabres drafted in the second round, 39th overall.
“He’s got that big, skilled, power forward element when he’s on with the skating,” he said of Miedema. “… This kid’s a very good athlete at 6-4 and he’s going to end up being an exceptional skater. He’s very raw, he’s got to bring it all together. But when … he was in that power forward mode, it was really impressive.”
Caputi said Miedema’s “extremely gifted offensively.” His prolific late-season output could be a harbinger for the upcoming season.
“He’s got size, he skates well, he’s got terrific vision,” he said. “… He’s physically capable and strong for an 18-year-old as any I’ve seen in my years here. So I think that putting it all together and being consistent with that, I truly believe he’s a 40-goal man (in the OHL).”