On the road to an NHL career there is no one direct path or perfect road.
There are the inevitable bumps and road blocks along the way — hurdles for some, impediments and blockades for others.
Red Deer’s Kale Howarth has certainly travelled an unconventional road, one that’s led him from thinking college hockey might be where the journey ended to being an NHL draft pick.
One year ago, the forward put up just 12 goals and 27 points in 51 games with the Trail Smoke Eaters of the British Columbia Hockey League.
After a 30-goal, 58 point campaign this year and a standout two-goal performance at the league showcase, the tides began to change.
Howarth was selected in the fifth round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets on June 24.
It was his third time through the draft and without being picked in the previous two, he decided he’d spend the morning on the golf course, trying to distract himself from the nerves.
It didn’t really work.
“We’re on hole five and I was getting a little nervous,” said Howarth. “It was the fourth or fifth round and I wasn’t seeing my name called. I refreshed my phone and I finally see my name and saw I went to Columbus. My phone just started blowing up. It was pretty unbelievable. There’s no feeling like draft day.”
Just days later he was in Ohio among the Blue Jackets’ best prospects for the annual five-day development camp.
“(It was a) pretty awesome experience. I went to be a sponge, and take it all in,” said the 20-year-old.
“The coaching staff was great; the development crew was really awesome, and the players were really helpful for getting the new guys settled in. Quite a difference seeing how NHL players handle themselves compared to junior and even college players.”
The six-foot-five, 207-pound centre is now training for the upcoming season in Penticton. He’s on a six-week training program where he’ll power skate, do some training in the gym and work on specific skill on the ice.
Although Howarth considers himself a good skater, he hopes that improving his skating will take his game to a new level.
After the summer, Howarth will rejoin his team in Trail, before heading to the University of Connecticut around Christmas to play NCAA Division 1 hockey for the Huskies.
Originally he was supposed to attend Northern Michigan but after the program changed coaches, Howarth decided to go a different direction. The Blue Jackets supported his decision and hope that after a couple years of college hockey he’ll be ready for the pros.
Howarth said the confidence Columbus has in him as a player refuelled his desire to make the jump to the next level.
“I like … knowing that they see me as a guy who can potentially be in their organization. (It) is an unbelievable feeling. You just want to work hard everyday,” he said.
“There’s other guys going through the draft next year, and guys that went two years ago. You don’t want them to be the guys who are outworking you. Because potentially it’s going to be your job – your lifestyle.”
Like most young players, he always viewed the NHL as a distant dream. After a week of wearing an NHL jersey in Columbus the dream has finally come within reach.
Howard said he is putting his best foot forward every day while trying to be the hardest working guy out there.
“That’s all I’m trying to do, and hopefully it result in me making the jump and playing in the NHL one day,” he said.
“Being a late developer, I only think I can go up from here.”