No one in the WHL would touch him.
He almost gave up his hockey dreams for - of all things - archery.
He didn't even watch the 2005 draft he was selected in, opting to go wakeboarding instead.
They said he needed to get bigger. They said he needed a more well-rounded game. They said he couldn't be just a speedster with soft hands, like so many failed prospect before him.
No team was willing to waste a 2nd round pick on a lanky 19 year old, but Vancouver's Chief Scout Ron Delorme said roll the dice. Why? Maybe because of what his coach in juniors said:
What the Canucks will see when he does eventually play for them, is a highly skilled player with amazing speed. He's got high end pro speed, even this year in junior. If you look at a guy who has played in a Canuck uniform, I'd say he's got that Pavel Bure high end type of speed.
Yup, all of this is true about Mason Raymond who is enjoying a resurgent year and has solidified himself as one of the best wingers on Vancouver not named Burrows or of Swedish descent.
Think about just the last two seasons: Raymond was bounced from line to line and suffered a horrendous goal scoring drought that lasted from late December until late March (a stretch where he added only two assists and fell to the fourth line). He was a relative non-factor in the playoffs (2G, 1A, -2) and entered training camp as one of the many bubble players who (at best) could crack the bottom six or (at worst) be cut loose on waivers or dangled as trade bait.
Raymond admitted he needed a big season in 2010 and wanted to develop into a player who - night in and night out - could be counted on by his team. At the risk of sounding like I'm standing on an aircraft carrier with a big banner behind my head, can I say "Mission Accomplished"?
Here's a broad look at Raymond's stats from last year and now (g/t to Frozen Pool and Behind The Net for the numbers):
|Multi Point Games||2||10|
|Zero Point Games||70.8%||52.2%|
|Salary per point||$57,083||$9,514|
|Cap hit per point||$73,611||$12,269|
|% Team's PP Time/GP||25.6%||37.6%|
|Hitting Net %||73.2||75.3|
If you want to go the comparison route, Raymond was originally drafted in the second round (51st) of the 2005 draft. He's currently being outproduced by Anze Kopitar, Paul Stastny and Bobby Ryan from his draft class, but has more points than Gilbert Brule (6th), Devin Setoguchi (8th), Niclas Bergfors (23rd), T.J. Oshie (24th), Andrew Cogliano (25th) and Guillaume Latendresse (45th). Any wonder why the 2nd round pick was the currency of choice this past deadline?
Or how about this: his 22 goals to date has him one behind the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Corey Perry and Danny Briere and ahead of Patrick Sharp, Eric Staal, Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk.
Some of this boost is situational. Raymond played the majority of ES last season alongside Kyle Wellwood and Steve Bernier and flanked Ryan Kesler and Bernier on the PP. This year he's spent the vast majority of both ES & PP with Kesler and Mikael Samuelsson. These same three also rank in the top 11 players who exceed their Corsi expectations at 5v5. His zone starts, in both the offensive and defensive zones, are eerily similar (basically six or seventh on the team depending on the circumstances).
Check out his Qualcomp, or the quality of the competition. He's currently second, right behind Willie Mitchell (remember him?) and - if you consider his Qualcomp Corsi - he's still second [note: you can read more about the distinction at Behind the Net; I know enough to explain generally but not enough to teach a class]. The bottom line is he's producing while out there against some of the NHL's best.
Raymond has rounded into a great PK'er as well. Even in the 2009 post season you could see his PK skills developing. He logged 0:47 seconds a game on the PK last year, or about 10.6% of Vancouver's total time shorthanded. This season he's up to 1:19 a game, or about 20.9% of short handed time.
Raymond still has room to develop obviously, but his maturation as a player - while certainly not unique - feels very understated. He's still prone to rookie-esque mistakes if not outright terrible plays (see goal #4 against Colorado on Tuesday), but he's a cut above where he was. Last season we were used to seeing him burn down the ice and head straight for the net; he was essentially nothing but speed. This year it's more common to see him make the tight pass, cut and turn at the top of the circle, use the options he has. Reading the ice and plays around him have made him a better, more dangerous player. Don't forget, this is the same kid that Demitra likened to Gaborik when he showed up in training camp two years ago.
So credit Raymond's training, credit AV's patience, credit hanging around the KesLORD and FU Sweden or credit the alignment of the stars or the TV references, whatever works. The subtle fact is he did what fans of any team wish their young guys would do: learn from the inevitable mistakes and come back stronger. By doing so, he gave the Canucks a top six player literally out of the blue.
The archery world's loss is our gain. You can't say that too often.