Luke Pither scored 36 goals and 94 points in 67 games for the Barrie Colts last season. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
When your name is among the offensive league leaders such as Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, everyone will assume you have already been drafted and will be jumping to the NHL in a year or two.
But not Luke Pither.
“I think it made me work harder,” said Pither on going undrafted by the NHL every year he was eligible. “It gave me different situations. It just builds you as a player. And to eventually get it in my overage season, it was great. It helped me grow my game.”
A 6-foot, 194-pound center from Burketon, Ont., Pither was signed by the Philadelphia Flyers on March 4, 2010 as an unrestricted free agent.
“Early in his draft year, he was probably a bit smaller and that’s one thing that could’ve happened,” said Flyers director of player development Don Luce. “Maybe he was too offensive and didn’t do any defensive work at all. There’s so many reasons, so who knows why? He’s a real good skater, but he probably wasn’t at his best then. Some guys don’t put it all together until they’re 19 years old. He’s one of those kids that just came along late. He just gained confidence as the years went by.”
Pither began his major junior career with the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario League, but after posting just 13 points in his rookie season and one point in the first five games of his sophomore season, he was traded to the Guelph Storm, where he began to make a name for himself.
Two-and-a-half seasons later, after posting his career high of 42 points in 51 games in 2007-08, Pither was moved again, this time to the Belleville Bulls. He finished his season on fire, scoring 42 points in 23 games, for a total of 72 points in the ’08-09 campaign.
In addition to upping his offensive totals, Pither began playing a more rounded game, incorporating better defensive and more intense play into his arsenal. Those areas continue to be a focus of improvement for the youngster.
“There’s always work to be done in the physical aspect,” Pither said. “I see myself as a skill player and I’ve always had the knock of not being physical. But I’m trying to work on that in the summer, getting gritty in the corners and getting my core a little stronger. I feel like I got better the last year, but there’s always work to be done.”
Said Luce of Pither’s defense: “I think it’s really improved. He’s done a good job in his last year of playing the defensive part of the game and that’s really good for that league. But now he’s got to improve for the next league, for the American League. It’s not that he has to play defensively. It’s that he has to learn his defensive responsibilities. In turn, that will add to his offensive game.”
In his final OHL season with the Barrie Colts – who he joined after being traded by Belleville – Pither broke out, scoring 36 goals and assisting on 58 others for 94 points in 67 games. His penalty minutes also increased – a consistent trend that impressed the Flyers.
“I think it shows more aggressive play,” Luce said. “When you play aggressively, you take more penalties, whether they’re elbowing or checking from behind. They’re not misconducts, though.”
Pither attributes his offensive success to one thing.
“I think it’s confidence,” he said. “I was an older player in the league. Ever since I got traded from Guelph (to Belleville and then) to Barrie, I’ve started scoring two points per game on average. I was playing with some good players.”
This coming season, Pither will be suiting up for the Adirondack Phantoms in the AHL and he knows there’s only one thing that shoots minor-leaguers up to the NHL.
“It’s all hard work.”
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