Siau looking like late-round gem

French River Rapids forward Levi Siau (93) battles for the puck against Timmins Rock forward Jordan Picard (14) during NOJHL action at McIntyre Arena in Timmins, Ont. on Thursday, December 7, 2017. Thomas Perry/Postmedia Network

By Ben Leeson, Sudbury Star

Pursuing a hockey career means embracing travel, a fact to which any Northern Ontarian who has spent hours on a bus to reach a regular-season game, let alone a tournament, will readily attest.

So when Levi Siau’s mother received a job offer in London, Ont., the native of Kakabeka Falls, near Thunder Bay, took the opportunity to join the local minor midget squad, one that included the likes of Ryan Suzuki, Brett Budgell and Aidan Prueter.

“It was unreal,” Siau said. “London is a great city.”

He’d like to return there next season, preferably as a member of the Sudbury Wolves, who drafted Siau with their 12th-round pick, 227th overall, in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection.

“I know nothing is guaranteed,” said the 16-year-old forward, currently playing for the French River Rapids of the NOJHL. “I’ll have to come to main camp and do my best and if they don’t want me, they don’t want me, but I feel really confident that I’ll have a spot on the team.”

The Wolves clearly feel Siau has that potential, too, after signing the the skilled 6-foot-1, 175-pounder earlier this season and even inserting him into the lineup for three games. The taste of major-junior hockey has only been a boost for Siau, who has since emerged as one of the NOJHL’s top rookies.

A three-assist outing last Friday gave him 39 points in 42 games, good for fourth among league freshmen, and first among 16-year-olds.

“I feel good,” Siau said. “I’m in a good position here. The coaches really believe in me and I believe in myself and so do my teammates. Every practice I’m out here getting better, every game, I’m thinking of something new.”

He counts his goal-scoring and playmaking ability as his strengths, adding that his skating and puck-handling have both improved since he started competing against bigger, faster junior players.

“You have to get stronger and you have to get your head up all the time,” Siau said. “Once you get the puck, you’re going to get hit.”

He credited Ken Strong, head coach of the Rapids and a longtime minor hockey bench boss with names such as Connor McDavid, Ryan Strome, Connor Brown and Sam Bennett on his resume, for accelerating his development.

“He’s hard on you,” Siau said. “Every time you come off, he’s got some feedback for you and it’s not aways going to be good, but you got to take it and go out there and fix it.”

Strong had plenty of positive comments, too, when asked about Siau’s progress this season.

“He has played very well, especially with that confidence-builder he got by going up and playing and spending some time with the Wolves,” Strong said. “He certainly learned a lot up there, in terms of what the next level is like and what he’s got to do while he’s down here. He has really become a leader and he’s maturing.

“We have changed his role a bit. He started as a winger, but the Wolves used him as a centre, so we have him at centre and I have tried to give him some wingers to play with and he can really control the game when he’s out there. He’s very dangerous and he is now being a lot more responsible, looking after his own end, playing a 200-foot game, so I’m very happy with him.”

Playing in nearby Noelville, Siau has also been under the watchful eye of Wolves general manager Rob Papineau, who has been high on the youngster since training camp last September.

“We couldn’t have expressed that more than by signing him to a contract,” Papineau said. “When he came up with us, he played well and what’s really excited about what Levi did is he took that opportunity to come up to the OHL and play a few games and be with the team for a week or so and he has brought that back to his team and taken his game to another level. He’s heading in the right direction and that’s what you want to see from a player.”

A player who, based on his current output, may have been better than a 12th-round pick. Siau himself certainly thinks so and he’s anxious for the chance to prove it.

Local fans can get a good look at Siau when the Rapids visit the Rayside-Balfour Canadians, a team that includes former Rapid and Wolves pick Christian Gaudreau, on Feb. 15 at 7 p.m.

Rayside also has defenceman Ethan Lavallee, whose rights the Wolves acquired from the Sarnia Sting earlier this month, as well as forwards Evan Krassey and Noah Serre and defencemen Ryan O’Bonsawin and Zach Snow, who have played for the Wolves as affiliates this season.