Jon Martin never envisioned himself as a top scorer in the Western Hockey League.
The 20-year-old Swift Current Broncos forward entered his overage season with 32 career goals through 246 games played with the Kootenay Ice, but when Martin was shipped to Speedy Creek at the start of October, everything changed.
“I don’t think anyone could expect something like this,” said Martin, who exploded into his overage season to lead the WHL in goals at the end of January with 33, despite posting only seven last year. “I know I didn’t expect it of myself, but it’s amazing what a new team and a new change can do.”
But someone did see it coming.
Broncos head coach and general manager Mark Lamb — who acquired the 6-foot-2, 218 pound winger for nothing more than a fourth round draft pick on Oct. 4 — told WHL.ca he expected great things from the Winnipeg native.
"Martin is a winner. He's a big, strong forward that comes to us from a winning organization,” Lamb said in a press release on Oct. 4. “We see great leadership abilities and some untapped offensive potential."
Martin spent the majority of his career with Kootenay as a third-to-fourth line presence, capping double digits in the goal column just once, with 10 in 2013-14, but Lamb says that’s exactly where he picked up on Martin’s true potential. While most eyes were fixed on Kootenay’s top scoring trio of Luke Philp, Jaedon Descheneau and Sam Reinhart, Lamb says Martin would wreak havoc on the Broncos from the bottom six.
“(Kootenay’s) top six was incredibly talented, but where we had a problem with the matchups was when Jon was on the third or fourth line,” said Lamb. “You’re paying attention to these other guys, but he was a really hard matchup playing lower down the lineup.”
That foresight has been paying off for Swift Current this season. In his first game as a Bronco, Martin lit the lamp and added a pair of assists. The following night he recorded his first career hat trick in the early stages of an 11-game point streak.
On Oct. 19, Martin was named WHL Player of the Week after posting two goals and five assists through three games.
“It’s a great story, it really is,” said Lamb. “The thing with Jon is he can really shoot. Here, he came right into a top six role. He’s a power play guy and he’s the leader of our team.”
In the midst of Martin’s debut hot streak, Lamb called for a players’ vote to determine who would lead the Broncos. The decision was unanimous; Martin was their new captain.
“It was a few weeks after he was here. We hadn’t had a captain and we were trying to figure out who could be captain,” said Lamb. “We had a (players) vote and it was unanimous. He got the captaincy and it wasn’t a surprise to anybody.”
While the Broncos sat eight points outside of the playoff picture with an 18-27-4-1 record as of Feb. 2, Martin’s recently tapped offensive potential has kept Swift Current in the running for a ticket to the post-season for the fourth year in a row.
It’s been an almost unheard of turnaround — doubling the numbers from his past four seasons combined in just 46 games is just one of his many accomplishments this season — but Martin, who has 23 assists to go with his 33 goals, insists little has changed in his approach to the game.
“It’s nothing too big, everything has just been bouncing my way,” said Martin. “I think, personally, I just have a lot more confidence. I feel more confident carrying the puck and shooting the puck.”
After spending the first four years of his career in Cranbrook, B.C., Martin admits the move to Swift Current came as an overwhelming and sudden change, but a strong support system helped set the stage for an unforgettable season.
“When I first got here, it was pretty tough getting traded but everyone has been good to me,” he said. “The staff, the team, the billets, the town, everything has been great. I can’t complain.”
Martin — who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 WHL bantam draft at 135 overall — went overlooked at the NHL entry draft, but his tremendous turnaround has been drumming up plenty of interest. As Lamb suggests, it won’t be long until Martin caps off his storybook season with a professional contract.
“He’s got all kinds of NHL action right now,” said Lamb. “He is going to sign a contract with a team and it couldn’t be better for him. We’re just happy he’s on our team.”
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