If scouting was an exact science, they would have seen Cole Jordan coming a mile away.
They would have seen his ridiculously good wheels as a 14-year-old, projected the uptick in his physical development and banked on a natural improvement in his emotional maturity.
Instead, he was one of those overlooked players. Another small guy supposedly lacking the attributes for the next level.
The beauty of this, of course, is Jordan didn't have to buy into any of the preconceptions.
PATH TO THE DRAFTClick to Expand
Prospect: Cole Jordan
Height: 6-2; Weight: 205
Current team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
WHL Draft: undrafted
NHL Central Scouting: rated 88th among North American skaters
NHL Draft: Round 1: Friday; Rounds 2-7 on Saturday
The 18-year-old Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman has been rising on NHL draft boards over the last six months and could be a sneaky good selection somewhere in the middle rounds of this weekend's draft.
"I was kind of a late bloomer," says Jordan, a 6-2, 205-pounder who was born and raised in Brandon. "I was kind of a small kid in my (WHL) draft year and wasn't really playing up to my full potential. I grew up in that first year of (U18) hockey and that kind of helped me a bit."
Jordan always had ambitions to play at the major junior level, but he was 5-7, 150 pounds. By the time he attended his first Warriors rookie camp, he had grown to 5-9 and 180. Moose Jaw decided to add him to its 50-player protected list midway through his 15-year-old season.
All the while, he was spending extra time on a backyard rink. He also went heavy on power skating lessons.
"Growing up I knew that that was my goal as a kid," he says. "I always wanted to play pro and play in the NHL but you know when my draft year passed and I went undrafted it's obviously some adversity and I've tried to try to just use that as motivation."
Jordan was transformed during the 2018-19 season when he teamed with blue-liner Rylan Thiessen to lead the U18 AAA Wheat Kings to a provincial title.
"He's really quiet kid, doesn't say a lot and he puts a fair bit of pressure on himself so I think when I took over he seemed to lacked confidence in himself," says Ken Schneider, Brandon's head coach that season. "We worked with him and geez, by the time we hit playoffs, he was really starting to hit his stride."
After becoming a point per game player at the U18 level, Jordan was ready for his next step.
A late birthday -- he was born on Sept. 21, 2002 -- made him ineligible for NHL Draft as a 17-year-old but that had an unintended benefit. He showed promise as a WHL rookie, but a broken thumb early in the season and a fractured jaw months later sidelined him for nine and 15 games, respectively.
In the off-season, he added another two inches to his current height but showed none of the awkwardness that often comes with a growth spurt.
In his second year, he more than doubled his average output with three goals and 10 points in 23 games during the WHL's East Division hub. Scouts were able to see him play with another good NHL prospect, Warriors left-winger Eric Alarie of Winnipeg.
Alarie is ranked 51st among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. Jordan came in 88th overall.
"Cole's just so laid back," says Warriors head coach Mark O'Leary. "Where they are the same is their competitiveness. You watch them practise and play and hockey brings out their competitive sides. With Cole, he's got a lot of interest this year from scouts and I think the No. 1 thing they see is his skating. He's got the beautiful long NHL stride and that jumps off the off the page."
Jordan has been developing his offensive tool kit but his biggest strides have come at the other end of the ice. He honed his defensive game partnered with captain Daemon Hunt, becoming more adept at reading the rush and learning to pick his spots for offensive forays. His mobility, in turn, allows him to thrive as a defender.
His coach says Jordan has a calming influence.
"He's real deceptive and smooth with the puck," said O'Leary. "It kind of goes with his demeanor. He's kinda laid back and not a whole lot of fazes him and that patience bodes well sometimes on on the power play. He showed that well this year so we'll find offensive situations for him (next season) but certainly that has to be earned, too."
O'Leary's only regret is putting the left-handed Jordan on the right side in 2019-20.
"His first year I think it was a disservice to him -- we had so many left shots (on the blue-line) and he was on the right side a lot playing on his wrong side," says O'Leary. "The way that he carries the puck I think that it put them in situations where he was susceptible to turnovers with the puck out in front of him."
Jordan says the experience was actually a positive, a necessary push. Being in his draft year was also a major motivator.
"I've talked to quite a few teams and they're all kinda kind of saying the same thing," said Jordan. "They really don't really know where it came from because I was obviously undrafted and they want to know what happened?"
But Schneider has seen undrafted prospects flourish before.
"I think he's one of those kids that maybe at some point it kind of shocks some people -- 'Oh geez, we're talking about Cole Jordan' -- but his game has come that far. He's just been one of those kids who's sort of been behind the scenes and quietly going about his business and and getting better."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.