Arizona Rubber

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Jr. Coyotes alum Playfair out to make his mark in WHL

 

Playfair2-JohnAllen

It’s not easy to be the son of an NHL coach and former player – no one knows that more than Austyn Playfair.

Now entering his second season of Major Junior hockey with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Tri-City Americans, the younger Playfair is proud to be Jim Playfair’s son, but wants to carve out his own identity in the hockey world.

Jim Playfair formerly coached the Calgary Flames and is entering his fifth season as an associate coach with the Arizona Coyotes. He also has NHL playing experience with the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers.

“My dad has always been my dad and we talk a lot of hockey,” said Playfair. “He’ll offer advice when I ask him and he’s very up front when I ask him to talk to me like a coach. He was always involved in hockey, but nothing was ever forced on us. My parents let us make our own decisions.”

Originally from Fort St. James, British Columbia, the elder Playfair moved his family to Scottsdale when he took the job with the Coyotes in 2011 and it was during the 2011-12 season while playing for the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes 14U AAA team that Austyn’s career hit a turning point.

“My skating really improved that first season and I saw firsthand all the resources the Jr. Coyotes program had,” Playfair said. “I also started to grow into my body, started to learn my body, and how to use my size (now 6-fooot-5, 215 pounds). CAHA really does so much to get all the players’ names out there and I attribute a lot of that to (Jr. Coyotes director of hockey) Mike DeAngelis. He helps kids find their way, but always keeps it fun. Wayne McBean was also a coach that treated me like a pro and pushed me to find my full potential.”

Playfair moved to the Jr. Coyotes 15U AAA team and 16U AAA team and then had a decision to make – did he want to seek an NCAA scholarship and play college hockey in the United States or try and make a WHL team? He went undrafted in his WHL draft year in 2012, but was listed by Tri-City and therefore, became Americans’ property.

“When that happened, that was an eye-opener, for sure,” admitted Playfair. “My dad played in the WHL and so did my uncle (Larry, who also played 688 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres and Los Angeles Kings). When Tri-City listed me, I knew that was where I wanted to go and to be honest, I never really looked at any NCAA options.”

For the 2014-15 season, Playfair earned an opening night roster spot with the Americans and recorded five points in 58 games, primarily in a third- and fourth-line center role.

“I like to say last season was a big learning experience for me,” said Playfair. “My brother (Jackson) was there at the start of the season, but then he went to Spokane (on a waiver claim). I like to think I played a good two-way game, penalty kill and was responsible in my own end. I just want to keep improving my overall game this season.”

Another brother, Dylan, played junior hockey in the British Columbia Hockey League’s Merritt Centennials in 2010-11, but later stepped away from the game.

In early September, Playfair took part in Arizona’s rookie camp after going undrafted in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. A “great experience,” Playfair feels getting a small taste of the NHL will only motivate him for the WHL season in Tri-City.

“We have a lot of guys back this season and the young talent we have is just crazy,” noted Playfair. “We have a team I can trust and we’ll be a hard-working team. It should definitely be a good year.”

Photo/John Allen

— Matt Mackinder