From the Sudbury Star

Sudbury Wolves prospect update

Even with a couple of interruptions due to injury, Sudbury Wolves prospect Nolan Jackson has made the transition to junior hockey almost as smoothly as the 16-year-old defenceman strides down the ice.
Sudbury’s second-round pick in the 2023 OHL Priority Selection, 37th overall, the Barrie Junior Colts AAA graduate signed with the local major-junior club out of training camp this past September, before being re-assigned to the Stouffville Spirit of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
One of Sudbury’s two affiliates at the junior A level, along with the Espanola Paper Kings of the NOJHL, the Spirit have a strong track record of helping blueliners such as Isaak Phillips and Andre Anania develop their skills en route to becoming full-time OHLers.
Jackson has already shown signs of potential to join that group, despite missing a handful of games here and there with a nagging shoulder injury, as a strong-skating, puck-moving defenceman with significant offensive upside and an ever-improving grasp of the defensive side of the game.
That latter attribute will be crucial for a Stouffville club whose solid 13-8-0-3 start, despite being one of the OJHL’s youngest squads on average, has been powered in part by its stingy goals-against total of 68 — fourth best in the 24-team loop.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder has contributed four assists in his first 10 games and sits fourth among U17 defencemen in points per game. He was in the lineup this past Sunday as the Spirit notched a 3-2 over the Milton Menace, one of the league’s top teams, before joining the Wolves as a callup for their visit to Peterborough on Monday evening. He then returned to help Stouffville defeat the Pickering Panthers 4-3 in overtime on Thursday.

“I feel like in the games I have played, I have played pretty strong,” said Jackson, reached for an interview late last week. “As a team, we’re doing really well, a lot better than we thought. I’m excited to see what starts to happen as we play against these better teams now.”

Putting a plan into action
Jackson had already committed to the Stouffville squad when he arrived in Sudbury for training camp at the end of August, knowing full well that as high as the Wolves were on his abilities, his chances to play a regular shift as part of such a veteran group were slim.
“If I played in Sudbury this year, I probably wasn’t going to get many minutes,” said the son of Nicky and Chris Jackson, who will celebrate his 17th birthday on Jan. 2. “They wanted me to play in Stouffville, so I could get stronger, faster and play against older guys, while still getting top minutes and learning how to play in all areas of the ice.”
A pipeline for not only the OHL, but for university programs on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, the OJHL was noticeably faster than the Eastern Triple A U16 league, where Jackson served as the Junior Colts’ captain last season, and certainly more physical than minor hockey.
“There’s a lot more skilled guys in this league and it’s a lot rougher,” he said. “There’s more hitting, there’s more scraps after the whistle and that adds a lot of fun to the game, I find.“I think it was something I took to pretty naturally. Definitely, the hitting and the rough-housing was something to get used to because we didn’t really have that last year, but other than that, I got into it pretty quickly, so it was good for me.”

Ethan Larmand (15) of Team Green and Nolan Jackson (2) of Team White race for a puck during a Sudbury Wolves training camp scrimmage at Sudbury Community Arena on Thursday, August 31, 2023.
Ethan Larmand (15) of Team Green and Nolan Jackson (2) of Team White race for a puck during a Sudbury Wolves training camp scrimmage at Sudbury Community Arena on Thursday, August 31, 2023. PHOTO BY BEN LEESON/THE SUDBURY STAR/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Asked to account for Stouffville’s results nearing the halfway mark of the regular season, Jackson pointed to the efforts of its staff, led by second-year head coach TJ Hill, and the tight-knit nature of its dressing room.

“We have a really close team and a whole bunch of new rookies that are very strong and add a lot to our team, and the veterans who have played here the last few years have made it easy for the rookies and they have guided the way,” Jackson said. “We have come together really briefly and we look like we have been playing together for a few years.”

He credited a couple of 20-year-olds in particular – centreman Odaro Ewere and defenceman Nathan Twohey – for providing leadership and guidance during his first few games as a junior.
If Twohey’s name sounds familiar to Wolves fans, it’s because the hard-working Peterborough product joined the Pack for a pair of regular-season games last spring, then for four more in the playoffs.
“Nathan’s a great guy and an even better player,” Jackson said. “I have learned a lot from him this year and I have learned a lot from Phillips and Anania, as well.”He has now followed those two in suiting up for three OHL contests, including an Oct. 20 debut against the Flint Firebirds that ranks among the most memorable games of the youngster’s career.
“It was awesome, especially being a home game,” Jackson said. “The crowd was massive, probably the biggest crowd I have ever played in front of, and it was just an awesome experience for me. I was glad to get the OHL debut under my belt.”
Strong start
Spirit head coach Hill is sure the up-and-coming defenceman will only be better off for playing on such as stage, having already noted Jackson’s poise and professionalism.
“He has looked really good with us,” Hill told The Sudbury Star this past weekend. “He has made the adjustment to the next level very easily. He’s a pleasure to coach, he’s a learner and his skating and his puck skills are elite. He has stepped right in and when he has been healthy, he has been able to take on a lot of responsibility and has logged a lot of minutes and he plays in every situation.
“He has been great for us.”
Determined to prepare Jackson for another easy move to the OHL ranks, Hill and company have given him the opportunity to defend against the most skilled, swiftest-skating standouts in the OJHL, while encouraging him to balance his high-end skill set with strong decision-making under pressure.
“One of the things we’re working on with him is being able to identify when the times are to move the puck, rather than to hold onto it and skate himself into trouble,” Hill explained. “We think if he can take some steps in that area, it’s going to help him step right into the lineup up in Sudbury next year and to be a guy who the coaching staff will be able to rely upon in all different situations.
”That’s the hope of Wolves general manager Rob Papineau, whose team is sure to lose overage defencemen Anania and Djibril Toure to graduation, and possibly some of Nolan Collins, Nick DeAngelis and Ryan Pryce to professional clubs or other opportunities.
Sudbury’s GM is bullish about the future of his blueline crew, which is currently set to return Matthew Mania and Owen Protz and to see signed prospects such as Braydon Bruce, Spencer Horgan and Trevor O’Dell join Jackson in making the leap from junior A after getting their own taste of OHL action this year.
“We feel great about Nolan,” Papineau said. “First and foremost, he brings a great attitude and a great work ethic every day. On the development side and the plan for this year, he embraced it and he understands he’s in this for a career, so getting as many minutes as he can this year is important.“
He has had a couple of injuries that have kept him out a little bit, but we have been fortunate enough to bring him in and when he has come up, he has fit right in. He has great feet, a real good feel for the game, he skates so well, he moves pucks and he’s a guy who’s definitely trending very well in the right direction.”
Win-win situation
Papineau complimented Ken Burrows, Stouffville’s longtime general manager and a member of the team’s ownership group, for helping to maintain a strong relationship that has benefitted both of their clubs.
“Ken has always been very co-operative and very supportive of the needs of our hockey team,” Papineau said. “He understands that when we have guys we want to put there, we want them to play and to develop. He runs a great program and we have had some real good success with guys, specifically defencemen.“They have done an outstanding job for us.”
Rather than commute an hour or so between Barrie and Stouffville for games and practices, Jackson is billeting in the latter community this season — another experience that will surely serve him well when he makes the move north.He rarely gets to see 15-year-old brother Logan in action with the North Central Predators, or 13-year-old sister Danica with the Barrie Sharks, but has monitored their progress from afar.“I get to their games whenever I can,” the elder Jackson sibling said.
Occupied as he is with school and sport, he has little time for extracurricular activities aside from hanging out with his buddies in Stouffville. In the classroom, he’s particularly interested in his health science course, which combines biology and kinesiology.
“I’m a big math guy, but not so much science,” he added. “I like history.”
Focused for now on the present, Jackson will look to help the Spirit get through upcoming games against Haliburton this coming Sunday and Cobourg and Wellington the following weekend, before making a strong second-half push toward playoffs.
“I have never really been on a strong playoff team before,” he said. “We did well at the OHL Cup last year, but not other than that, so hopefully that will help to bump up my confidence, playing big minutes in big games like that. Playoffs are hard-hitting games, so I’m excited for those.”