By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Having coached Curtis Hall since the player was 13, Russ Sinkewich has vivid memories of the forward’s early playing days.
One in particular stands out now that Hall was drafted by the Bruins in the fourth round (199th overall) last month.
“Physically he was just so much more advanced than a lot of his peers and a lot of his competition. He was always a big kid and he always competed so well,” Sinkewich told CBS Boston this month during a phone call. “And it’s funny because I’m somewhat friendly with David Backes through Tyson Strachan, and it’s the smallest world, and I remember when [Hall] was 13, he would always get hung up if he didn’t score goals.
“And I was like, ‘Curtis you’re like a little David Backes. You’re going to be a two-way center, you’re going to win draws, you’re going to kill penalties … and sure enough now he’s in an organization with David Backes. Very, very cool.”
The odds are long that the 18-year-old Hall will cross paths with the 34-year-old Backes while both are wearing the black and gold, but Hall projects as a top-nine threat whose play could be reminiscent of a prime-aged Backes once Hall develops his pro game.
For now Hall’s taking his talents from Youngstown of the USHL, where he had 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) last season, to Yale. Skating for the Bulldogs will be a dream come true for the 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-handed shot.
“Yeah … I was really interested in the Ivy Leagues and I visited Yale and it just felt right,” Hall said during Bruins development camp last month. “So I love their staff there and they have high expectations for me.”
Hockey in the Cleveland area is growing and Sinkewich, a Cleveland native who played more than 300 games in the AHL and ECHL after a four-year collegiate career at Bowling Green, has been a huge part of it through his work with the Cleveland Barons program and his founding of the Ohio Hockey Project in 2009.
Sinkewich came to know Hall’s father Mike, another Bowling Green alum, and eventually was able to start working with the younger Hall on a regular basis. Right away Sinkewich knew he had a special player on his hands.
When he moved up from U-14 to U-16 hockey, Hall faced off against the likes of Bode Wilde, Brady Tkachuk and Oliver Wahlstrom, fellow 2018 NHL draft picks, and proved he could compete with those somewhat higher-profile players.
“It was those quote-unquote pro-hockey details that had already developed,” Sinkewich said. “And when you’re coaching at that age, you coach that eight days a week, but you didn’t have to tell him anything. But he understood he had to get in a shot lane to block a shot, he understood the importance of winning a D-zone draw to clear on a PK, like little things like that, little hockey IQ skills that he was locked in, which was really cool.”
Raw talent can go awry without the right coaching, and Hall appreciates that he had a pro player nearby to provide guidance.
“He just taught me a lot of things,” Hall said about Sinkewich. “Discipline, a lot of stuff like that. And just how to play the game the right way. So I can’t thank him enough.”
Although Cleveland has produced its share of Division 1 college players and professional players, Hall is the first one Sinkewich has been able to tutor from his early teens. There are more talents like Hall on the way, but for now, Hall has a chance to be a real trailblazer and set the bar for players from the Cleveland area.
“Yeah it’s nice. I like coming out of an area that you don’t see guys come out much, like a place like Detroit,” Hall said. “I feel like I have some pride.”
The Bruins held development camp early this summer, but that doesn’t mean our coverage of prospects is over. This is the first of several prospect profiles that we’ll publish over the rest of the summer.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.