Detroit — Donovan Sebrango didn’t turn 19 until Jan. 12, just as many pro hockey leagues around the world were re-opening amid the pandemic.
So, you have to imagine it was a bit strange for the teen Sebrango to walk into the Grand Rapids Griffins’ locker room weeks later where most players were three years older, or more.
Some of the minor leaguers already had played in the NHL, getting a look-see from the Red Wings. Some were grizzled minor league veterans. None were essentially recent high school graduates.
“Coming in as a younger guy, you’re a little intimidated,” Sebrango said during an end-of-season media Zoom call. “But you soak in what the older guys are talking about and just listen.”
Sebrango, a third-round draft pick by the Wings in 2020, did a good job of soaking up knowledge.
With the Ontario Hockey League junior season postponed because of the pandemic, Sebrango was loaned by the Wings to a Slovakian team where he played five games for HK Levice (one goal, two assists).
The Wings brought Sebrango back to North America when the American League season got underway, signed Sebrango to an amateur tryout contract, and Sebrango became the fourth-youngest defensemen in the AHL.
In 31 games with the Griffins, Sebrango had four points (all assists) and had a plus-1 rating while playing regular shifts and likely opened some eyes in the Wings organization.
“He’s a good-skating defenseman who plays with an edge,” said Kris Draper, the Red Wings’ director of amateur scouting, when assessing Sebrango after last year’s Entry Draft.
Seeing Sebrango in a Griffins uniform, Draper’s assessment was spot on.
More of an old-school defenseman who plays a physical game and with grit, Sebrango won’t necessarily make any of those highlight-reel plays on offensive, though he has the ability. Sebrango is more likely to be conscientious defensively, playing the style coaches love to see.
Ben Simon, the Griffins’ coach, felt the experience Sebrango gained in the AHL will greatly help the young defenseman.
“He will be better served in the long run with that experience,” Simon said during a Zoom call earlier this season, adding Sebrango came in “and did a really good job, playing with confidence and he has a great work ethic.
“He learns. He is a strong skater. He comes in every day and he wants to learn. He has a great attitude. He was thrown into the fire a little bit, but (did) a really good job settling in and learning from his mistakes and being teachable.”
Sebrango watched and listened around the locker room and on the ice, and felt that contributed to his development and progress.
“Listen to what they say and watching what they do and how they prepare for practices and games,” Sebrango said. “Definitely I had some nerves going into it, but I looked at it as an opportunity I wouldn’t have gotten in any other league and I wanted to capitalize on this opportunity.
“This opportunity really helped me develop as a person and player. I’m thankful, and just being here, I really benefited from being in Grand Rapids.”
Most junior players, when talking about moving upward to the pro level, talk about one significant difference between the two ranks: speed.
Sebrango is no different.
The speed of AHL players compared to what Sebrango was used to in the OHL, plus the size of pro players, made for an adjustment.
But Sebrango attempted to persevere by playing the no-frills, but edgy, game he usually does.
“Anytime you move to any level, the speed is the one thing you kind of notice,” Sebrango said. “Definitely the speed was one thing that I noticed moving up. The bigger guys that are players, it took a couple of games to get my feet under me. But I (was) just trying to play a simple, physical game and bring that day in and day out and go from there.”
Simon was pleased with with Sebrango’s approach to the game.
Despite his inexperience and age, Sebrango didn’t back down and was involved on the ice. Coming out of the draft, scouts liked Sebrango’s willingness to play a scrappy game, and he showed that in the AHL.
“He does a lot of little things that go unnoticed,” Simon said. “His biggest attribute in the (time) he has been here has been his compete level, and sometimes that is a skill set hard to develop in players. When you inherently have it, that bodes well for his future.
“(Sebrango did) a really good job of putting in his time here and being open-minded and continuing to learn on a daily basis.”
An interesting note to Sebrango’s near future is where he could play next season.
Sebrango has junior eligibility remaining, so unless rules are amended, there’s a chance he’ll play in Kitchener next season. But whatever transpires, Sebrango has made himself a legitimate prospect in the Wings organization.
“I really don’t know what is going to happen,” Sebrango said. “I don’t really know where I’ll play next season, if it’s in the OHL or if I get to play here (AHL) again, but I’ll just prepare for the regular season no matter where it is.”