“In junior, it’s more only about hockey. But now it’s about life.”
When the name Curtis Douglas comes up in conversation, it’s usually someone raving about his height.
The Dallas Stars drafted the Oakville native in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL draft. During that time, he was playing with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. In his last season of OHL eligibility, Douglas had 60 points (30G, 30A) in 62 games.
At six-foot-nine, the 21-year-old is currently the tallest player in the AHL. If he makes it to the NHL, he will stand beside Zdeno Chara as the tallest player to ever play in the league.
Douglas, though, doesn’t want to be known for just that. His size is a massive part of his game and how he plays, but it’s not everything.
“I mean, it’s been happening since I was 10 years old. And it will probably continue happening till the end of my career,” Douglas said about people saying his size is everything. “I offer a lot of things other than just size. I mean, it’s a big asset that I do enjoy putting to good work on the ice.
“I think a lot of stuff falls under the radar with other areas of my game. I’m not saying in perfect in any stance, but I think I get a little less credit than some people think. But I mean, I just don’t really care about that stuff. I focus on my own game, and how me and my inner circle, and the guys in the room — how they see me play is all that matters to me and if I can get some shot, we go from there.”
After finishing his junior career, he was loaned to Linz Steel Wings of the Alps Hockey League, where he put up 12 points (8G, 4A) in 16 games. Douglas signed with the Belleville Senators towards the back-half of this past AHL season, only playing 11 games.
Now, he’s home playing in the organization he idolized as a child.
“I’m living the dream right now and just trying to soak in every minute of it,” said Douglas about being close to home and playing in the Leafs organization. “It’s a nice change of pace when I can come out of the room and see my family and loved ones. And it definitely takes a piece of pressure off, which is really nice. And I get to go home every once and a while on off days or whatever and go home and see my dog. And you know, which, which is a big stress reliever. And I mean, it’s great to have.”
Through 19 games this season, Douglas has three goals and six assists. The 21-year-old spent the beginning of the season on the Marlies’ third and fourth lines.
Marlies head coach, Greg Moore, has seen the improvement in Douglas. He still believes the 21-year-old can use his size to his advantage more often.
“We don’t think maybe he realizes just how much of an attribute his size could be for himself. It’s something that the development team has worked with him almost daily on the ice, and how to use that.” Marlies head coach, Greg Moore said. “Douglas has been another player that has added things to his game so quickly and now that he’s realized that his size is his advantage over everybody else, it’s been impressive what he’s been able to create for us and the impact he’s had in the games.”
A few players being called up to the Leafs, and some injuries, led Douglas to centre one of Toronto’s top lines with Bobby McMann and Josh Ho-Sang.
It’s something he earned, and he notices it.
“I think I’ve grown every single game so far,” Douglas said of his season with the Marlies so far. “I’m just trying to continue to get better. I mean, I think I started the season off well for what I thought was good at that time. And I think my ceiling for my play each game in my own eyes is growing. And I think that’s really, really special.
“I’m super excited to see that. And I just continue to have more hopes and things for myself to do each game. And I mean, it’s helping me grow. And I’m just really excited for the future here.”
Growing up in Oakville, Ontario, Douglas spent a lot of time at the rink. It allowed him to dream big and try to achieve anything he thought was possible.
“When I was 10 years old, or 12 years old, my best friend’s dad was actually the assistant coach here, Derek King. So we used to come to the games and sit in the locker room and just like kind of dream it up,” said Douglas with a smile. “We would skate on the Marlies ice here at MasterCard [Ford Performance Centre], and just the two of us. So I mean, for me to be here now, in the Toronto Marlies gear is pretty special.”
Derek King is now the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks. While with the Toronto Marlies, King was able to bring his kids and Douglas along whenever there was ice available at Ricoh Coliseum (now Coca-Cola Coliseum) or Ford Performance Centre.
“It was more just giving them the opportunity to get on the ice as much as they could,” King said.
But for Douglas, he loved every moment of it.
“He always had a smile on his face, and he works hard. But he understands what he needs to do to stay at that level,” King said over the phone. “You could tell he was brought up the right way.”
King also mentioned watching Douglas in his minor hockey playing days. Like many have said, he was always the tallest, but King saw more.
“I watched his games in minor hockey. You could see he had some hockey in him. He wasn’t the fastest kid out there, he was always the tallest kid.” King said. “Could he get from A to B quicker than anyone else? No. But being smart, and the way he handled the puck down low, and the way he worked the boards, you could tell that he had something.”
In every passing minute at the rink, Douglas is learning. During development portions of practice, the 21-year-old works a lot with Leafs Assistant Skating Development Consultant, Randi Milani.
Douglas has taken a step in terms of his skating abilities. The faster and better he gets, the closer he is to live out his childhood dream.
“I think it’s gotten a ton better and it’s still got a big piece to go,” said Douglas of his skating. “But I think it’s really getting there. And like I said, just continue to improve. I’m trying not to focus too much about production and things like that, and just continue to focus on my internal goals and goals set by management and staff and things like that.”
The 21-year-old plays in the organization he grew up cheering for. Part of the dream is making it to the NHL, but another part is playing with the Toronto Marlies — the Leafs’ AHL affiliate.
Playing on this team, or any team for that matter, there’s going to be good and bad days. Everyone’s human, and that happens.
But it’s how you handle those days that matters.
“Yeah, I mean, sometimes there’s days that it’s tough here, right? I mean, it happens to every athlete where you have days where it’s hard.” Douglas said. “And I mean, on some of those days, I try and just take a step back and look around.”
The Marlies, though, are a tight-knit group of players. If he or any other player is having a tough day, others are there to help.
“There’s older guys, there’s younger guys, there’s mid career guys, but everyone kind of likes to see each other in the same playing field, which is really nice, especially being a younger guy.” Said Douglas. “Just it takes a lot of pressure off being first-year athletes. I mean, it can be tough at times trying to learn the league, especially for the younger guys.
“If you have someone at the other end of the bench who’s played here for however many years, and they’re picking you up and telling you little things that help your game. I mean, it’s such a big help. And it flies under the radar, how good of guys we have on this team, and how much respect we offer each other.”
For a parent — or coach — or both like King is, it’s always amazing to see someone you know make the NHL. Watching him at ten years old and now seeing him have a lot of success 11 years later, King is incredibly happy for Douglas.
And if the 21-year-old makes the NHL, it will be a happy moment for everyone.
“It’s just — you’re happy for them. Happy for him, happy for his family.” King said. “You always forget about the families that put the time and effort into getting them to the rink, paying for the sticks — the $300 stick he just broke over the net because he didn’t score a goal.
“I’d be happy for just his entire family, but most importantly for him because he has put the work in, and it’s a dream for him. And like I said, a good kid like that, a character kid like that, you got time for him.”