It’s no surprise that when the Toronto Maple Leafs went up to the podium at the 2015 draft, they were drafting for the future. Selecting the likes of Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott and Jeremy Bracco, the Leafs were able to pick other players that may have a significant impact with the club that others passed up on.
One of those players was Kingston Frontenacs defenseman, Stephen Desrocher.
Passed up in the 2014 NHL Draft, Desrocher did whatever it took to improve his draft stock and get noticed by scouts when the 2015 NHL Entry Draft came around. This included taking on more responsibility at both ends of the ice. To top that off, Desrocher helped the Oshawa Generals capture the OHL Championship and the Memorial Cup under former head coach and current Leafs assistant coach DJ Smith.
Drafted in the sixth round (121st overall) in the 2012 OHL draft, Desrocher was selected in the sixth round (155th overall) by the Maple Leafs in 2015. While he was a late round pick, the Leafs could have the big-bodied, all-round defenseman they’ve desperately been seeking for a number years.
At six-foot-four, 198 lbs, Desrocher ranks 16th overall in scoring among Ontario Hockey League defenseman (26 points). Desrocher is also becoming a fixture on special teams. He has five powerplay goals and 10 assists this year.
After Desrocher, spent most of his junior career with the Generals, he was traded to the Frontenacs on November 3rd, 2015.
The Frontenacs currently sit first in the Eastern Conference, six points ahead of the Barrie Colts. Desrocher is poised to be a key contributor once again while making another run at an OHL and Memorial Cup championship.
I had the opportunity to talk with Desrocher about the draft, the impact DJ Smith had on him, the Memorial Cup and his improvements as a player.
Leafs Hub: First of all congratulations on being drafted by the Maple Leafs. It must’ve been a special moment when that happened.
Stephen Desrocher: “Yeah for sure, of course. I mean definitely being from Toronto, to be picked by the Leafs, my team that I watched all my life growing up and definitely I was a huge fan of the Leafs. So, to be picked by them was crazy and to share that moment with my family and friends was just something that I’ll never forget.”
LH: You just mentioned that you grew up in Toronto. Did you ever get the feeling that you would get drafted by the home team at all?
SD: “I never really thought about what team it was going to be, to be honest. I was just hoping that I got drafted. And when it was the Leafs, it made it that more special for it to be my home town.”
LH: You were passed over in the draft the year before (2014), obviously you worked really hard to get to that point and then you have all 30 teams pass up on you, it must’ve been a tough pill to swallow.
SD: “Yeah. Definitely not getting drafted in my first year I guess was a bit more of motivation for me to work even harder and try and get drafted the next year. Which I thought I did and I guess my hard work paid off because they took me the next year. Hopefully, it’s good for guys to look up to me and know that if they don’t get drafted in their draft year, you can still getting drafted the next year and you can still sign free agent contracts.”
LH: DJ Smith, he was your coach in Oshawa and then he went on to become an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Did you have any communication with him in order to try and improve your stock or try and work at your game to get noticed?
SD: “Obviously, he’s taught me so much from the first day I got there in Oshawa. I have to give a lot of credit to him for getting me to where I am today. Now that we are still in the same organization, he’s the coach of the Leafs and I’m drafted, he’s definitely been helping me. He calls me once in a while and gives me tips and tells me what to work on. He’s been a big help.”
LH: Is there anything specific that you wanted to work on during that year?
SD: “I just started focusing on playing a really hard defensive game and not letting goals get scored on me while I’m on the ice. Whenever I could, I was trying to contribute offensively as well. He had me on the penalty kill by the end of the year and had me on the power play by the end of the year, so he was putting me in all situations. I was just trying to have an all-around strong game.”
LH: Is that the game that you want to play? Be the all-round strong defenseman that can be relied on in both ends?
SD: “Yeah, definitely. I want to be able to play in all areas of the ice and all aspects of the game.”
LH: Because DJ Smith is an assistant coach with the Leafs, do you think he had some sort of say in trying to draft you in 2015?
SD: “I’m not too sure. But I think he definitely would because I was on his team. He was one of the first one’s to call me right when it happened. I would’ve guessed that he was part of it and helped get me picked for sure.”
LH: You won the Memorial Cup with the Oshawa Generals last year. Congratulations again for that as well.
SD: “Thank you.”
LH: You scored the game-winning goal against the Quebec Remparts and against fellow Maple Leafs prospect Dmytro Timashov, obviously one of the highlights of your junior career, along with the championship as well?
SD: “Yeah, that was probably my most memorable goal. In the Memorial Cup, in overtime against a great team in their hometown, that was huge for me. And obviously Timashov is a great player. For us to both be picked by the Leafs was pretty cool to have that game played against him there.”
LH: Take us through the play itself when you scored that goal.
SD: “I just remember Cole Cassels winning the draw back to me. I remember maybe making a slight fake and getting by the guy that was coming at me. I just kind of used my left arm to fend off his stick and when I got the chance, I just let it go. I tried to raise it and got it up high enough and it beat Fucale’s glove. He’s a great goalie, so that was a special moment for me. For sure.”
Video of the goal
LH: You were traded from Oshawa to Kingston, what was that like to get that call this year?
SD: “It was a shock to me at first, but I was happy to go to Kingston. Kingston’s a great city. We have a great team here with a great coaching staff and we’re going to try and make a run like we did with Oshawa last year. It was tough to leave Oshawa because it’s such a great city and I have a lot of special memories there, but I’m glad to be in Kingston now.”
LH: With Michael Dal Colle, who was on Oshawa last year, with Lawson Crouse, (Spencer) Watson, and (Roland) McKeown this year, do you guys feel like you’re ready to make another run at a championship?
SD: “Yeah, I think so. Our coaching staff and our staff tried to load to up to go for a long run. Kingston hasn’t been lucky enough to get past the first round, I think the last 18 years. This is the year we’re going to try and change that and we’re all in. I think that everyone has bought into the system and everyone knows what their job is, so I think we can do it.”
LH: After the rookie camp, you were sent back to juniors. Is there one thing that you wanted to try and work on this year, so that your ready for next year?
SD: “Being at camp there, I noticed the speed and the physicality and just the quick plays that are made, it’s so much of a faster game. I took note of that and when I came back here I’m trying to make faster plays and improve my skating and obviously get stronger everyday. Those are the three main things.”
LH: You had 23 points last year. You surpassed that this year with 26. Is it fair to say that you want to try and get more offensive production and get more involved in the play?
SD: “Yeah. I’m trying to improve in all areas of the ice, like I said before. I’m trying to improve my defensive areas. I don’t want any goals scored against me when I’m on the ice, just like I said. Every year I felt more comfortable out there and every year I feel like I’m starting to get more focused on my offensive game as well. So I chip in offensively and try and get a goal or an assist whenever I can, for sure.”
LH: Thank you Steven for doing this, best of luck the rest of the season.
SD: “Thanks a lot, I appreciate it.”
Desrocher is looking to become a solid two-way presence on the Maple Leafs blue line. He adds depth to an already young and promising defensive prospect pool with the likes of Travis Dermott, Viktor Loov, Andrew Nielsen, Jesper Lindgren and Stuart Percy. And if you want, you can throw Nikita Zaitsev in there as well.
The fact that Desrcoher wants to be relied on in both ends, it shows his commitment to buy into Mike Babcock’s system of a team first mentality.
The commitment and drive is evident with Desrocher. His presence in the offensive zone is becoming more evident as his point totals show. His 26 points surpass last season’s total and his 119 shots show that he isn’t afraid to shoot. Coupled that with his strong play in the defensive zone and you have the makings of a quality defenseman.
*Statistics as of January 23rd, 2016. Stats & numbers courtesy of Ontario Hockey League.