A Career Year

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When the 2016-17 QMJHL season started the prognosticators had the Saint John Sea Dogs pencilled in to be a contending team for the 2017 Presidents Cup. The Sea Dogs have certainly lived up to their billing through the first half of the season.  However, the Sea Dogs are getting offensive contributions from an unlikely source that just happens to be having a career year.

The highly touted Saint John Sea Dogs started the season with four overagers on their roster and there was speculation that the odd man out was going to be Montreal, Que., native Bokondji Imama. Once thought to be strictly a one-dimensional hockey player, Imama is putting up career numbers and has become an impact player on a first place team.

A five-year veteran of the QMJHL mostly known for his pugilistic tendencies is arguably the toughest player in the QMJHL. Imama is a physically intimidating presence every time he steps on the ice has matured and developed into a complete player as well as a leader. Imama has lived up to his role as an enforcer over his career in the QMJHL and it was that aspect of his game that drew the eye of NHL scouts.  The Tampa Bay Lightning selected Imama in the sixth round, 180th overall in the 2015 entry draft.

Imama’s willingness to play on the edge has led the veteran to sometimes cross the line.  Suspensions over the last few seasons derailed Imama’s development as a player thus affecting his time on ice and perhaps fracturing the trust between player and coach.

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Imama has drastically reduced his penalty minutes this season and has become an offensive threat at even strength and on the man advantage for the Sea Dogs. It would appear that Head Coach Danny Flynn has given Boko more responsibility and trust as an overager by giving him an opportunity to play top six minutes. Imama boasts countless multi-goal games this season while still contributing physically when needed.

His style of play has not only created time and space for his line mates but for himself as well.  It’s evident that Imama has worked hard on his release over the last few seasons.  The 20-year-old possesses a heavy accurate shot that has certainly surprised countless goaltenders this season.  Imama has 20 goals thru 31 games and boasts an impressive plus-five rating.

I had the opportunity to interview Darryl Plandowski, head of scouting for the Tampa Bay Lightning, during a broadcast on Rogers TV in early October.  When I asked Plandowski about Imama he said “Boko is our most improved prospect”.  That’s very high praise coming from an organization that boasts a tremendous amount of highly skilled prospects.

When asked to provide a reason why the organisation didn’t have him playing in the American Hockey League, Plandowski replied by saying “we feel it’s best for Boko’s development to stay in junior and get more touches, and his role wouldn’t be the same if he were playing in the AHL”.  It’s evident that Plandowski and Tampa’s decision not to rush Imama is paying dividends.

President and General Manager of the Saint John Sea Dogs, Trevor Georgie had this to say when asked about Imama’s impact this season:

“Boko is a leader on this team in so many ways. He is a vocal spokesman in our dressing room, and he backs up his words on the ice. He’s still that ‘big brother’ and protector to our younger players, but he worked extremely hard on his game to make himself into a power forward who is a scoring threat, and a physical one. Our players feed off his energy and enthusiasm. He has been a huge key to our success in the first half.”

Imama’s ability to transform his style of play in his final year of junior shows not only growth and maturity but a passion to play at the next level.

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