They call it the imposter syndrome.
It afflicts most everyone. The more you think about something the more unreal it feels when you get it.
Which brings us nicely to defenceman Stuart Percy, just 18, and drafted 25th overall by the Maple Leafs last June? A concussion meant a speed bump this season in junior but in 150 games with the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors he has 12 goals, and 76 points. He is plus 63. Yes, plus 63.
At season’s end the Leafs rounded up their junior players and took them for a season-ending series in Abbotsford, BC. The idea is to give the kids a notion of the pro life, test them a little in practice and send them on their way with a taste of what it will take to thrive at the next level.
On a whim, Marlies’ coach Dallas Eakins threw Percy into his first professional game during the season finale in Abbotsford. The power play had been creaky and Percy had the requisite offensive skills to help when the Marlies had the man advantage. Besides, Jesse Blacker, himself a nice first year prospect was out with a shoulder injury.
“We wanted to have a look at him on the power play. What we found is that he played well five on five,” Eakins said.
And so it was that a few weeks after his season seemed to be ended by a playoff loss to the Barrie Colts, Stuart Percy was lining up beside prized prospect Jake Gardiner as the Marlies won their playoff opener 4-3 over Rochester.
“I was definitely surprised. It’s the playoff, it’s another monster entirely,” Percy said. “I just tried to get in there, do my thing and move the puck and stay composed.”
Percy finished plus one and other than one rushed pass up the middle that could well have ended up in his own net, his game was clean.
It was enough to make you wonder about the defence of the future. Gardiner is just 21 and rather than opt for the traditional mix of a rambling defender with a conservative type, Eakins opted for a death star tandem of Korbinian Holzer and Mark Fraser supplemented mostly with the Gardiner-Percy pairing.
Percy is a puck-moving type with nice vision and touch but when you have to force yourself to watch him when he is paired with the electrifying Gardiner.
Percy noted his sole gaffe in the second period. Just to make sure he did, Eakins slid down to the other end of the bench to help Percy figure it out.
“He told me to take it behind the net and use that to find some more protection,” Percy said. “I tried to turn it up the strong side and I shouldn’t have done that. I guess it’s a learning experience. I’m thankful I got away with that one.”
Despite the fact he knocked veteran Josh Engel out of the lineup, Percy said he has been warmly welcomed. The trick to playing with the arresting Gardiner, he joked, is to avoid being hypnotized.
“I try to support him. When he jumps up I want to stay back and cover up the house.”
The Amerks and Marlies return to action Saturday afternoon. Game time is 3 pm.