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Edit: Drafted 97th Overall by the Florida Panthers.
As a rookie on the Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2011-12, Mike Downing played with his older brother Jake. However, an off-season trade saw Jake leave the Saints, leaving Mike on his own. Whether this factored into what was a very disappointing start to the season for Mike Downing or not, is hard to be sure of, but that tough start is exactly what happened. However Downing would battle through the struggles and really came on for Dubuque in the second half of the season. He started to show the two way play that the Saints had expected of him, and his play on the blue line steadily improved as the season wore on. This continued into the USHL playoffs where Downing played a key role in helping the Saints to the USHL Championship.
Downing is committed to the University of Michigan next season, though if he changes his mind, his rights are owned by the OHL’s Sarnia Sting.
Born May 19 1995 — Canton, MI
Height 6.03 — Weight 192 — Shoots Left
Like many defencemen in this draft, Downing has tremendous size. He has tried to take advantage of his frame this year by playing a much more physical, grittier game. This has really improved his defence overall, as he is stronger in the corners and in battling in front of the net. Downing has also done a good job of adding some big hits into his game and putting some fear into opposing forwards who come down his end of the ice. However this added physical game needs some polish. Downing needs to learn how to pick his spots in throwing those big hits as he can sometimes become a little overzealous and get himself out of position as a result. This applies to the board battles as well, sometimes he is a little too quick to engage, leaving an opponent the opportunity to slip by him. Overall though his defence is good, and if he can improve a little bit on the decision making, he has the tools to be a very good defender.
Downing has a long and powerful skating stride that gives him good speed both forwards and backwards. His acceleration is good, and his good first step quickness make him an above average straight line skater. However he does need some work on his pivots, edgework and agility, as he can be beaten laterally by quick players. His balance, and strength on his skates is good, but like many young players can be improved with some time bulking up in the weight room.
There is also a little bit of offence in Downing’s game. He has a good hard slapshot and he understands the importance of keeping it low and on net for rebounds, tip-ins, and screens. He also is a very good passer making tape to tape passes to start the breakout or in the offensive zone. One thing he doesn’t seem to do enough though, is join the rush, as Downing is more of a stay at home defender. The skills are there, but the offensive production just hasn’t been great, even on good teams. I think there is potential to add more of an offensive element here, but its a matter of Downing being able to do it.
Downing’s style is reminiscent of Dan Hamhuis, though that is a style comparison and not one based on his potential. If he hits his ceiling, and is able to work on his current weaknesses, he could be a top four defenceman, playing a solid, but unspectacular role on the second pairing in the NHL.
Check back tomorrow for another NHL draft feature.
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