By Dhiren Mahiban – IIHF.com
David Levin was playing more inline than ice hockey at home in Israel until he moved to Canada as a 13-year-old. Despite a setback at the NHL Entry Draft the 18-year-old from Tel Aviv has big dreams.
Levin will be the first to tell you his third season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves didn’t go as planned.
Levin was limited to 46 games where he scored 14 goals and 15 assists down from the 53 points he produced in 66 games the previous season and his Wolves missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
Levin was also passed over at the recent NHL draft.
“That wasn’t my best season, you guys can see the results,” Levin said. “I didn’t want that to happen, I’m only 18-years-old and I have a lot ahead of me so I’m going to keep working hard and see where I’m going to get.”
Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Levin’s first foray into hockey was inline hockey near his home town.
“It was really hard (to find ice time), especially because it’s really hot outside back home so you’ve got to play outside on the roller rink,” Levin explained. “My dad was my coach for the first 12 years and he took care of me.”
Levin’s father, Pavel, was a professional football player in his home country of Latvia while his mother, Lena, hails from Russia.
“My dad was a soccer player back in Latvia, Riga,” Levin said. “Back in Latvia, in the winter, they play ice hockey so he knew about (the game). When he moved to Israel, he needed a job so he opened a roller rink and that’s where everything started for me.”
Levin discovered NHL highlights of Sidney Crosby on YouTube and began asking his parents to move to Canada as a nine-year-old so he could pursue his own NHL dream. His parents finally relented when Levin was 13 allowing him to move to the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, Ontario with is aunt and uncle Alla and Yafim Tovberg.
“When I was nine, I asked my parents if I can move, they said I’m too young (still), I still had to grow up a bit,” Levin recalled. “Three years later, I asked them again and my dad said, ‘Yeah, you can try’ and my mom said that too. I moved here and everything started at the Hill Academy.”
A private high school in Concord, Ontario, the Hill Academy focuses on student-athletes. That’s where Levin first met Lindsay Hofford. Now a scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hofford helped Levin translate his roller hockey skills to the ice.
“He was a lot for me, he helped me a lot, he took care of me, he was like my second dad,” Levin said. “He was my coach for two years too so he improved me a lot.”
Levin’s showed enough improvement in his game over the following three years that the Sudbury Wolves used the first overall pick to select him at the 2015 OHL Priority Selection.
However, since making the jump to the OHL, Levin’s skating has failed to make the necessary strides to see him selected in the NHL draft.
“To me, his skating stalled in his second year in the OHL, there wasn’t as much jump,” said ISS Hockey scout Ben Gallant. “It was pretty poor as a 16-year-old and then got better, but it didn’t get explosive or anything in his 18-year-old season, this past season. It hasn’t gotten better.
“It’s definitely more like a roller hockey stride where he’s very wide-legged, especially when he’s carrying the puck over the line because he comes from the history. He doesn’t have any quick cuts on his turns or anything like that.”
As a native of Israel it is a requirement for Levin to serve in the military upon turning 18. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound winger has already received a deferment on his military duties previously, but is currently seeking another deferment so he can continue his hockey career.
“Going to try to get it right now, but right now I’m trying focus on hockey, not on the army,” Levin said. “I think it’s better to be here than in the army.
“When you’re 18, you’ve got to join until 21 so if I go back, my (hockey) career is over so I’m going to stay here.”
Levin’s agency is currently working on keeping their client on the ice.
“It’s a process,” said agent Ryan Barnes. “There’s still some things to happen, but obviously it’s kind of in a holding pattern right now, and going through the proper process with the people at the Israeli consulate and we’ll go from there.”
Avoiding his military service would be helped by having his Canadian citizenship, a process Barnes is also working on. Although not having the passport with the maple leaf yet, Levin had it on one time on his jersey when he participated in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge for Canada Black.
“It’s something that would probably make things a lot easier for him,” Barnes said. “Obviously there’s a process to go through with the Canadian government as well.
“It’s been on-going here for almost two years now with us trying to get that for him. We’re working hard at it, but these things take time.”
Despite the issues with his skating, Levin showed enough in his three OHL seasons to earn multiple invites to NHL development camps following the draft and agreed to join the Maple Leafs.
“He’s training in the offseason in Toronto, and it’s kind of an adopted hometown team for David,” said Barnes. “When we made him aware of his opportunities, he immediately picked the Leafs to attend development camp.”
Levin’s connection with Hofford also helped his decision.
During his time at Leafs development camp Levin has spent extended time working with skating development consultant Barb Underhill and player development consultant Darryl Belfry.
“(Belfry) just tried to help me on my skating,” said Levin. “They know that’s my weakness and he’s a really good coach on skating so he helped me a lot.”
If things don’t workout with the Leafs, Levin already has other options.
“He could sign a free agent contract,” Barnes said. “There’s a window that opens up in September for free agents, but right now, David is at the Leafs development camp and then it’s expected in September that he will be attending the Traverse City NHL prospects tournament with the Carolina Hurricanes.”
While pursing his own NHL dream, Levin is also trying to get his younger brother Michael to join him in Canada. The 13-year-old has already received offers from the Vaughan Kings and Toronto Junior Canadiens of the Greater Toronto Hockey League.
“Obviously when you’re making the decision, Michael, I believe he’s an ‘05, it’s still pretty young for a 13-year-old boy,” said Barnes. “It’s kind of the same year David did come over, but it’s still awfully young to send a 13-year-old child anywhere in the world so that’s still up in the air whether he’s going to follow in his brother’s footsteps this year or a little bit further down the road.”