Photo courtesy Brayden Low
The Alex Burrows story is one of inspiration, from undrafted ECHL player to NHL regular. It’s a trail Brayden Low hopes to replicate.
At 23, Richmond’s Low is at a career crossroads. But starting his second season in the ECHL (formerly known as the East Coast Hockey League), he refuses to let go of the dream to play in the NHL.
“I feel good, better than I’ve ever felt,” said Low, who signed a free agent contract this summer with the Quad City Mallards, an affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights.
“I had a tough last few years, including a couple of major injuries,” acknowledged Low, who was limited to seven points in 42 games with the Rapid City Rush last season. “But I feel with a new team I’m also getting a new start and there are no more distractions.”
So far, so good for Low who has two points in his first two games this season.
Knowing the window of opportunity is quickly closing, Low completely revamped his off-season routine, including hiring a new skills coach in Richmond-based Glenn Wheeler.
And he is encouraged that a strong showing with the Mallards could open some eyes with the expansion Golden Knights.
“Something needed to change,” Low said. “And getting a coach like Wheeler, who is one of the best in the business for skill development, I think will help a lot. We put a plan in place and went for it.”
A late bloomer, even by his own recognition, Low has the tools to make it to the NHL. But most of all he needs the chance, and then to make the most of it.
“I haven’t had that opportunity yet,” he explains. “But I think it’s more situational than anything.”
As a junior, playing in the WHL for the Everett Silvertips, Low didn’t reach his stride until he was almost 20 playing under former NHL coach Ken Constantine, who pushed his young protégé hard. Wheeler has done likewise, believing it’s a matter of Low finding a niche.
“My job is to make sure I’m honest with him, but I know I’ve watched kids with less work ethic and less talent make it,” Wheeler said. “He’s like many other stories we hear. They were all-stars in minor, and then reached a level when they found out real quick they were surrounded by everyone else who was a captain or goal scorer. One of the things that’s enlightened me is coaches aren’t identifying players in their late teens and developing them into players with a chance to play at the next level. That’s what Brayden is doing now.”
Wheeler said it’s about building Low’s worth as a hockey player.
“He has a good tool box but we had to find a level where he was comfortable, where his game would shine most. It’s probably as a defensive centre who has excellent board skills but can also put the puck in the net. This confirms to me that we should be looking at 18 and 19 and start to develop their hockey IQ, putting them in certain areas that when push comes to shove, they can succeed. I’ve talked to a lot of NHL players who’ve whittled their tool box down to certain things they can do really well. It’s the reason they are at that level.”
At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Low has exceptional speed-to-size ratio but, suggested Wheeler, has been kind of freelancing his game for the last while.
“He’s very good down low, so able to get to pucks and get shots on net. Obviously he would not be looked upon at the NHL level as a premier goal scorer, but a guy who creates opportunities and is expected to convert at a rate on par with guys on the third or fourth line.”
Low is also very good on face-offs, another ability that with continued focus could also be a way to the NHL.
“He’s got very strong wrists and reflexes, but hadn’t been trained in the technical part of it,” explained Wheeler. “We worked on some of that this summer, and something like that can catapult you. If he continues to work on that it could be a difference-maker for him.”
Low said now is the time to go and create that break.
“I’ve always loved playing hockey. I love the game,” he said. “There are 500 guys who’ve played in the ECHL and gone on to play in the NHL. I feel I’m ready now to go and do that too.”