For the native of Stratford Ontario, it began in 2011 with one of 42 invitations to the All-Canadian Mentorship Camp headed by fitness and diet guru and former NHL’er Gary Roberts. From there the 6’3” and 205 pound defenseman went on to play his Minor Midget AAA hockey for the Huron Perth Lakers during the 2011 – 2012 season.
Middleton played in 25 games for the Lakers scoring 7 goals and adding 17 assists. He went on to tally 1 goal and 7 assists in 8 playoff games for the Lakers. Following his Midget season, Middleton played 4 games for the Stratford Cullitons of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League registering 3 assists in those contests.
In 2012, Middleton was chosen 8th overall in the Ontario Hockey League’s Priority Selection by the Owen Sound Attack. His rookie season began by playing just 14 games for the Attack and registering one assist. A high ankle sprain caused him to miss almost two months and ice time was hard to come by when he returned considering the depth the Attack had.
Trade deadline approached and Middleton found himself on his way to the Ottawa 67’s, a team that was mired in last place and selling off veteran assets for prospects and draft picks and was in rebuild mode. Middleton found more ice time and quality minutes playing for the young and rebuilding squad. He finished off with 1 goal and 3 assists in 15 games for the 67’s.
Because he missed seven plus weeks last season, it wasn’t the type of season everyone had hoped for. And it was also the type of injury that can hinder a player even after he returns to the ice to play. Consider this: At the beginning of last season, there were just 3 defenseman with a 1996 birth date to start and finish the season in the OHL, Aaron Ekblad (Barrie Colts), Roland McKeown (Kingston Frontenacs) and Middleton.
Despite the injury, Middleton found his way onto Team Ontario’s squad at the World Hockey Challenge Under 17 Tournament. He scored once and added an assist in 5 games as his squad finished 6th at the tournament.
The summer of 2013 saw a invitation to Team Canada’s selection camp for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. And although he didn’t make the final squad, it shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than a tremendous depth that Canada has on the blue line.
Middleton plays a two-way game although defence comes first. He’s played against the opposition’s top players since joining the 67’s. He makes a very good first pass to go along with his excellent hockey vision and hockey IQ. He has good mobility and isn’t afraid to jump into the play. His shot needs improving but it’s accurate and he shoots with a purpose. He also brings a physical element to his game. And although he has very good size, he’s not a brawler. But make no mistake, he will drop the gloves and take care of business to defend a teammate or himself. He plays in every situation for the 67’s and eats up huge minutes. His character and maturity are beyond his years, something that is becoming more and more important to NHL teams.
During a recent road game in Peterborough, Petes’ head coach Jody Hull had this to say about 67’s players to watch: “On defense, Jacob Middleton leads the way as he is a very steady, reliable player who plays in all situations." And it’s a sentiment heard around the league when opposing coaches talk about the 67’s.
We spoke with Ottawa 67’s associate coach Misha Donskov about Middleton and his progression. “When we acquired Middleton, he was playing about 5 minutes a night with Owen Sound but we believed he was the type of player that we could build our young team around. He suffered a concussion late in the season and worked hard back in Stratford to get ready for this season” replied Donskov when asked what intrigued them most about Middleton.
Donskov went on to say “Middleton has good size and plays a very good two way game. He plays a very good defensive game, blocks shots, will take the body, and is very good at jumping into the play from the neutral zone in.” Donskov added “we have the youngest defense in the OHL and Jacob plays in all situations for us.”
I asked Donskov, with the depth Canada had on defense for the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, that if Middleton would use that as incentive to prove that he is more than capable this season: “That’s a good point. Yes but like any young player in their draft year, I think Jacob is out to prove that he can be successful in the OHL.”
I pointed out to the coach that making player comparisons isn’t something I normally do and if he could make a comparison for Middleton. He replied “I don’t do that either. As I said before, Middleton plays a complete two way game and we felt that on a team that is rebuilding, he is someone we could build around.” In a nutshell, Donskov went on to say the potential for Middleton is there and it’s something that he will work on.
This is a draft that can go in an infinite number of directions, and if you look at draft rankings all over, there isn’t much of a consensus out there. But the potential, along with everything else, has these eyes liking everything there is to see in Middleton.