The first time Rob Papineau saw David Goyette play hockey, he was standing in a London, Ont., rink scouting the Wendy Dufton Memorial Tournament, one of the biggest minor hockey events of every season.
Goyette was the little kid with the weird background, one which shrouded him — and his future — in mystery. He was born in Quebec, he was now living in Eastern Ontario, but he was playing for the Connecticut-based South Kent School Selects Academy.
So not only had those in attendance not seen as much of him as they had his peers, but they weren’t even sure if he was going to go take the OHL, QMJHL or NCAA paths that were all available to him.
But it didn’t take long for Papineau, the general manager of the Sudbury Wolves, to realize he needed to do everything he could to pull him in his direction.
“When you’re as good as David was, you have a lot of options,” Papineau said. “That was definitely something that he had earned.”
And there was another problem: Papineau was surrounded by scouts, clad in their black jackets, and they could all see what he could.
“He’s one of those guys where you see him play a shift and he just jumps off the ice with his speed. He just kind of controlled everything at that level. He was a little bit smaller at that time but we knew, just because I was standing next to a gentleman who pointed out his father, that his dad was a big man, 6-foot-3, with broad shoulders. And he didn’t have facial hair, where some kids do, and that can honestly indicate if they’re going to grow or they’re done growing, and so we knew he was going to come along that way,” Papineau said. “But just his speed, and his vision, and the way he controlled the game, it really did look like he was an 18-year-old playing with 15-year-olds out there.”
From that point on, the Wolves set their sights on Goyette as their first-round target for the 2020 OHL draft, following him closely through to the Silver Stick Tournament.
When the draft came, Goyette had posted 153 points in 65 games with South Kent Academy. And though the Wolves held the 11th selection, Goyette ranked atop their board.
Unsure of whether he’d be available when it was their turn, they made their pitch to Goyette, his family, and his advisor, Octagon’s Andy Scott, nonetheless.
There was the classic OHL case — the one that sells the best junior league in the world, with its pro-like schedule, as the surest preparation for a next level that is getting younger and younger. There was a year-by-year plan for each of Goyette’s seasons in Sudbury as means to guide him out of the OHL and directly into the NHL. There was a track record of developing top prospects within a successful program, fresh off a Central Division title built around top 2020 NHL Draft prospect Quinton Byfield. And there was a clear local angle: Sudbury is a bilingual community.
Now they wanted to rebuild again and they wanted to do it around Goyette.
Two years later, after they got their guy and he chose the OHL, nothing about the way he got from Point A (the OHL draft) to Point B (the NHL draft) went quite as expected. The Wolves’ season-by-season plan for him went out the window when the OHL cancelled his 16-year-old campaign due to the pandemic. When he tried to find somewhere else to play during his lost year, he was swiftly booted out of the league.
But Goyette’s destination — the top of the 2022 draft class — remains the same.
As his belated rookie season wrapped up, he’d emerged as a bonafide star and potential first-round pick, leading all OHL rookies in goals (33) and points (73), with 11 more goals and 23 more points than his nearest teammate.
“He’s on that path right now as a guy who should come through junior and be able to really quickly adjust to pro hockey. He’s hitting all of the buckets that we assumed he was going (to hit),” Papineau said.
By the time Goyette was in Germany competing for Canada at the U18 World Championships — another checkpoint in his and Sudbury’s plan — he’d sold the hockey world just like he’d sold Papineau all those years earlier.