Constantinou ready for next step
The Niagara IceDogs plan to let Billy Constantinou be Billy Constantinou this season.
The mobile rearguard suffered through the normal growing pains of a rookie last year, but this season is expected to play a much more significant role.
“I think Billy is going to get a real chance to shine this year,” IceDogs coach Billy Burke said Tuesday as training camp kicked off. “He’s an offensive guy so we have to make sure he gets some power play opportunities and we’re letting him do what he does best. He has the potential to be an elite offensive defenceman. He showed it in minor midget where he had the puck on his stick all the time.”
Constantinou feels he is ready to take the next step.
“It’s nice to know that I’ll have the opportunity to help the team win,” the 17-year-old Scarborough native said. “Coming in this year, I’m more in my comfort zone and I feel I have more confidence.
“I want to help the team more in any way I can on the ice.”
Constantinou, who was selected in the second round (36th overall) of the 2017 Ontario Hockey League draft, is best known for his skating ability and offensive instincts.
He collected three goals and 12 points and was a minus-5 last season in 45 games.
“He’s guy who was in and out of the lineup. He would struggle and times and show flashes of brilliance at times,” Burke said. “It’s tough. It’s hard on rookie goalies and the next hardest is on rookie defencemen.”
Constantinou admitted the difference between his second training camp and coming in as a rookie is like night and day.
“I feel a lot more comfortable. You know what’s going on and how the camp works,” he said. “The only thing you don’t know are the new guys coming in but I think coming in as a second-year guy, that year helps you adjust to the pace and the competition level.”
Constantinou showed great puck-moving abilities at times last season, but at times seemed to forgo the easy, quick outlet pass in favour of a more spectacular — and often riskier — individual play.
“I felt like the year was a good learning curve. I learned a lot,” he said. “Coming into the league, there is the element of the unknown and you don’t now what to expect. As the year goes on, you get more adjusted.
“Being a rookie can be tough sometimes but every player goes through that in the league and it’s something you have to deal with if you want to play at a high level.”
Burke appreciates Constaninou’s maturity and willingness to learn.
“He is a guy who absolutely wants to be a hockey player. He doesn’t balk when you tell him to focus on the defensive side of the game. It was obvious he would take what we were giving him and trying to build on it.”
Constantinou realizes he must walk a fine line offensively and doesn’t need to rush the puck every time he has it on his stick.
“Playing at the higher level, I learned when to turn the switch on, when to go and when not to go,” he said. “There is a right time and the wrong place to go. I learned making mistakes last year — everyone makes mistakes — and that made me a better player.”
Constantinou is expected to be one of eight defenceman who will make the opening night roster.
Even with Justin McPherson traded and Willy Lochead retired, the Dogs have a good deal of depth on the blueline. Liam Ham, Elijah Roberts, Jonathon Schaefer, Drew Hunter, import pick up Danial Bukac and first-round selection Lleyton Moore would also seems locks to earn a spot.
“There are still competitive spots back there,” Burke said. “The D work well together and have great respect for each other, but they can look around and see they we won’t break camp with all of them.
“They have to prove themselves. Just because you were around last year doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be around this year. We’re lucky to have it. A lot of teams would love to have the depth we have on the back end.”
Camp continues Wednesday beginning at 9:30 a.m. The IceDogs take on the Barrie Colts Friday in an exhibition game at Thorold Arena at 7 p.m.
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