When making the jump from a junior hockey league to the next level of competition, there’s often an inherent learning curve associated with it. It takes a special athlete who can make that transition look seamless, while maintaining the same level of skill and statistical output at the higher level of competition as they did in the lower-tier level.
The Colorado Avalanche knew what they had when the selected Alex Newhook with the 16th overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft. Newhook had just finished a career season with the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL, in which he won the Vern Dye Memorial Award as the league’s most valuable player after leading the league with 64 assists and a whopping 102 points in 53 games — nearly 20 more points than his nearest competition.
In addition to that, he was named the MVP of the entire Canadian Junior Hockey League, which consists of 132 total teams across 10 different junior sub-leagues.
Newhook knew he wanted to take his talents to the NCAA with Boston College before the Avalanche drafted his services. What he — or the Avs — didn’t know is how quickly he’d begin to dominate at the collegiate level, as he did in the BCHL a year prior.
It took less than a month for the recently-turned 19 year old to adjust to the new level of competition. After notching just one goal in his first six games, Newhook has since tallied 15 more and a total of 31 points in his last 22 games. The freshman forward from Boston College currently sits second in both goals and points among all Division I college freshman.
“I think as a freshman you come in with high hopes of adapting as fast as you can and try to be an effective player right off that bat and it’s definitely an adjustment for me,” said Newhook. “I think just trying to develop that sense of being a threat every time I’m on the ice, becoming a guy that’s dangerous for our team every time I’m on the ice. I’m just trying to be that guy and try to learn as much as I can everyday and hopefully incorporate that into my game.”
In very fitting fashion, Newhook scored his first NCAA goal and point in the city that drafted him, as his BC Eagles were in Denver taking on the DU Pioneers back on Oct. 19. He and the rest of his team have grown quite a bit since then.
“I think we’ve come a long way since the beginning of the season. In Denver, we were kind of off to a bit of a slow start for our team. And I think personally for guys when the team isn’t doing well, we don’t really seem to get things going,” added Newhook. “So for us and myself personally, we’ve gotten a few different looks in lineups, which is great, and just trying to stay consistent and get better everyday.
“That’s been a huge part of it for me and it’s been going well lately.”
Things really have been going incredibly well for both Boston College and its top-ranked freshman. BC has risen to the top of the Hockey East rankings while Newhook has hit his offensive stride, scoring seven goals and 13 points in just his last six games alone.
Did he think he would take to the college game so quickly?
“I don’t know if there were expectations, but the drive is always there for me…Coming in and just trying to be that guy right off the bat was a big thing,” said Newhook. “Playing with good players and playing on a good team is definitely a big factor as well.”
Newhook says there have been a number of things that have helped him become on of NCAA hockey’s most excited and productive freshman. For one, he’s gotten stronger, thanks to Boston College’s strength and conditioning program.
“I’ve definitely put on a bit of weight,” said the 5-foot-11, nearly-200 pound forward. “It’s easier too when you’re in season and not playing as many games. It’s been good. The strength program here has been great and I have a good opportunity to take care of my body.”
Another factor in his success this season has been his linemates and moving back to his natural position. Newhook started the year on the wing of Boston College’s third line. Since then, he’s transitioned back to his natural spot as a center, while earning a promotion to the Eagles’ second line.
“We’ve switched it up a little bit,” said Newhook. “...It’s been good. I’ve switched to the middle for a bit, so that’s been good and I’m enjoying that. A few little changes, but for the most part it’s been consistent.”
In addition to that, Newhook has been playing on the team’s penalty-kill unit, earning the trust of Hall-of-Fame head coach Jerry York, who happens to be NCAA hockey’s winningest coach with over 1,000 victories under his belt.
Newhook is a part of a PK unit that leads the entire NCAA with 10 short-handed goals — three of which Newhook has scored himself, which is tied for the most in the NCAA.
“I was playing a little bit at the beginning of the season but I’ve definitely been getting more looks on the kill lately, which has been great,” Newhook said of his role. “It’s good to be put in that kind of position for our team. The short-handed goals have been good and hopefully I can keep that rolling.”
For how well Newhook has transitioned to this next level of competition has many wondering just how long until he could potentially be pushing for a roster spot with the Avalanche. Rest assured, Avs general manager Joe Sakic and the rest of Colorado’s development team have been keeping close tabs on their highly-revered prospect.
“They come down and check on our games. They’ve been to a fair amount of games throughout the season and it’s great to keep in touch with them and the development staff there,” Newhook said of the Avs. “They do a great job of keeping up with us and staying around, which is awesome. There’s (some) conversations, and they’re definitely letting me develop. It’s great.”
But can he see himself making a run at the NHL roster next season?
“It’s definitely always in the back of your head. It’s always the main goal,” Newhook admitted. “For me, there’s no real rush right now. The Avs are obviously a very strong team and I’m in a good spot right now at BC with being able to develop.
“That being said, it’s always in the back of my mind and when the timing is right or if I get that opportunity, it’d be amazing. But I’m just sticking to what I’m doing here and trying to develop as much as I can before that time comes.”