For many players eyeing an OHL career, a year in the Junior ‘A’ ranks can be the perfect introduction to the bigger bodies, faster feet and physical grind they’ll face at the next level.
For a few 16-year-olds, especially those who join veteran-laden teams intent on a playoff run, the experience can be a frustrating one, with ice time diminishing as older, more experienced skaters join the squad.
Fortunately for the Sudbury Wolves, forward prospect Cameron Kosurko falls well within the former category, continuing to earn significant playing time with the Timmins Rock of the NOJHL, despite that club’s depth and its designs on a berth in the Dudley-Hewitt Cup regional championship.
That’s due in part to the philosophy espoused by head coach Corey Beer and his staff, but also Kosurko’s impressive skill coachability.
The Uxbridge, Ont. native, who won’t turn 17 until late May, has seven goals, including two game-winners, and eight assists in 37 games, along with just eight penalty minutes. Every tally by the 5-foot-9, 145-pounder has come at even strength.
“It has been great,” said Kosurko, of his first few months in the City with a Heart of Gold.
“I have really enjoyed coming up to Timmins. It’s a great hockey town and playing in front of so many fans, with this atmosphere and this team, is just great. I’m really enjoying it.”
Sudbury’s 10th-round pick, 197th overall in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection, following a solid season with the Central Ontario Wolves Minor Midgets, the son of Mike and Jackie Kosurko was among the Rock’s earliest additions for 2019-20.
“I have been working hard and just making sure I’m doing everything right, all the little things the coaches want,” he said. “It seems to be working out and I’m having a lot of fun.”
Kosurko believes his speed and skill, and even more so his head for the game, have been key factors in his successful transition.
“I know the game, I can understand it and I can think at a high pace, and that helps me make good plays and keep up with the older guys,” he added.
There have been some rough patches, of course, which Beer expected for the young recruit, but Timmins’ bench boss has been more than happy with Kosurko’s ability to adapt.
“He’s one of those guys who, early on, you saw the flashes of his speed and skill, obviously, in our prospect camp and in training camp,” Beer said.
“But as is the case with a lot of guys, he was one of his team’s top players in minor midget and he got away with a lot of things at that level.
“We’re a pretty structured team here and early on, we had to go deep into the playbook and on video with him on working away from the puck and all those kinds of things.”
Much as they did last year with Keegan McMullen, who has since joined the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, Beer and company placed Kosurko alongside a pair of veterans, in this case Derek Seguin and Josh Dickson, to start the year, and were thrilled with the results.
“He doesn’t possess a really high-end, heavy shot yet, but is he ever deceptive with the puck, and playing with two good goal scorers like that, he has been able to put up points that way and to earn consistent minutes,” Beer said.
“It has kind of been a slow process, but we’re getting him into the middle of the ice and he’s playing centre now and he has kind of exploded a little bit.
“Numbers-wise, it hasn’t been anything that has jumped off the page, but his all-around game here has been incredible during the last month and a half and he has worked himself into one of the top rotations on the penalty kill.
“You kind of forget what age he is, because he has exceeded our expectations that way.”
Indeed, Kosurko has come to take pride in playing a 200-foot game, which he knows could go a long way in his bid to make the Sudbury roster for 2020-21.
“I need to keep getting stronger, to keep playing and keep working,” he said. “If I put my mind to it, if I can get a little stronger and a little more mature, I think it’s possible.”
Rob Papineau thinks so, too. The Wolves’ vice-president of hockey operations and general manager has had a good vantage point to monitor Kosurko’s progress and has been pleased, if not exactly surprised, with the steps he has taken.
“The reason that Cam was a later-round pick was probably related to his size, and the fact the team he was playing on last year wasn’t a real strong team,” Papineau said.
“When you dig a little deeper, his father is a pretty big man and we believe he’s going to go through a growth spurt, but his skill and his compete level were always at the high end of last year’s draft.
“Sometimes, you’re sitting there during the draft and you realize where you are, and you realize that hey, that guy is still available, and you get excited, then your turn comes up and you’re able to make the selection.
“We really think with the way he competes and with the skill he brings every day, that’s why he’s having the success he’s having in Junior ‘A’ as a 16-year-old, and that’s why his coaches are happy with him in Timmins and why he has been able to contribute on a really good team.”
Papineau recalled Kosurko’s standout performance last season at a tournament in Peterborough, where he helped lead Central Ontario to a win over a Sudbury squad that included a handful of current OHLers.
“He was the best player on the ice in that game,” Papineau said. “That sticks out in your mind. He brought that kind of attitude forward. It’s just the type of kid he is.