Landon McCallum spent very little time dwelling on the results of last weekend’s NHL Entry Draft.
Though he went undrafted, the Sudbury Wolves forward will still have an opportunity to turn heads at the big-league level when he attends the St. Louis Blues’ training camp in September.
“After the draft ended, a couple of teams called my agent and he was trying to figure out which ones would be best suited to me at this time,” recalled the 17-year-old centreman from Delhi, Ont., reached earlier this week. “St. Louis was a good opportunity.”
The Blues made only four picks in this year’s draft, taking centre Zachary Bolduc 17th overall, winger Simon Robertsson in the 71st spot, defenceman Tyson Galloway at 145 and forward Ivan Vorobyov at 198 — potentially making more room for a free agent such as McCallum to impress.
“I’m hoping for the best,” he said. “It sucks not getting drafted, but it was a tough year without playing and I can’t dwell on that too much. It’s a marathon, not a sprint in hockey, so I’m just going to take it one step at a time and give it my all.”
Sudbury’s first-round pick in 2019, McCallum is one of the youngest players in his draft class, just 10 days away from the Sept. 15 cutoff that would have pushed his NHL eligibility to 2022.
Since he last suited up for the Wolves in the 2019-20 regular season, during which he totalled six points in 52 games, the hard-working Brantford Minor Hockey Association product has packed roughly 25 pounds onto his 5-foot-11 frame.
He had hoped to showcase his greater size and strength, along with other improvements in his game, had the OHL been able to execute its return-to-play plan last season, but the campaign was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
It will be a different player who hits the ice for training camp, McCallum said, one who still relies on skill and speed, but is much more well-equipped to play the physically assertive style he prefers.
“I’m a lot bigger, that’s for sure,” McCallum said. “I’m also a lot more confident with the puck. In my first year, I was always looking to give it to someone else after I got it — I almost felt rushed. Now, even in scrimmages with other OHL guys, I just feel more confident out there. I’m playing my game now, which is really nice.”
He gave a glimpse of that game last month, when he took part in the PBHH Invitational showcase in Erie, alongside several other major junior-level players and prospects.
McCallum was officially credited with thee assists in nine games, though he may have earned a couple more helpers, and was happy with his play overall.
“I think I played a lot better than in my first year (in the OHL),” he said. “I wasn’t scoring, but I think I could have had three goals in every game. I was hitting posts, stuff like that. Maybe I was saving those for the season.
“There’s definitely some things I still need to work on and that’s what I’m doing right now, working on my tight-area game, making improvements wherever I can. That was a big reason why I went to Erie, so I could see what I needed to work on after that.”
He looks forward to reconnecting with his Wolves teammates, and to seeing incoming players such as fellow PBHH participants Kocha Delic and Evan Konyen.
Second- and fourth-round picks, respectively, in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection, the 2004-born forwards put up good numbers at the showcase, with Delic collecting four points and Konyen seven.
“I got to watch a few of their games when I was down there and they’re really good players,” McCallum said.
Chase Stillman, a close friend and occasional linemate back in 2019-20, will receive warm congratulations for becoming an NHL first-round selection, 29th overall by the New Jersey Devils, this past weekend.
“I hope we get to play together this year,” McCallum said. “I know we have a lot of chemistry and he’s mentioned before, too, that he likes playing with me. I’m a little more of a disher and he he’s more of a shooter, so I think we go good together and we both like to play that rough style of game and abuse the other lines we’re playing against.
“I’m also looking forward to seeing Jack Thompson. He was a big influence on me my first year and a leader, so it will be nice to see him again.”
While much of his summer will be devoted to training, McCallum looks forward to a trip to Quebec for a tournament featuring his younger brother, Braydon, who will be eligible for next year’s OHL draft.
“It’s a big year for him and I think it’s kind of nice that I can give him some advice and some little tricks, now that I have played in the league,” McCallum said. “I had some troubles in my rookie year and if he plays in the league as a 16-year-old, it will be a smoother transition.
“A lot of people say we play a similar style. He’s really good, he can play that skill game and he’s got good finishing ability, too.”
With both the 1999- and 2000-born groups graduating since the last OHL game was played, and just a handful of 2002-born players currently signed by the Sudbury squad, 2003s such as McCallum, Stillman and Ethan Larmand will be among the most experienced major-junior players on the roster — likely leading to more prominent roles for each of them in 2021-22.
“I wouldn’t call myself a vet, but I’m one of the older guys, for sure,” McCallum said. “I feel like I’m ready to lead this group, to set an example for guys and to help them transition.”
The Wolves will open rookie orientation camp on Aug. 30, followed by main training camp a couple of days later.
McCallum will likely be available for Sudbury’s first exhibition game, Sept. 5 in Sault Ste. Marie, before heading to the Blues’ camp the following week.
The Wolves open the regular season at home against Peterborough on Oct. 8.