At the age of 15, Coquitlam's Mathew Barzal has an array of options before him - and then some.
Like a lot of teenagers who juggle school, a social life, sports and potential career choices, he is enjoying the now while seeking out a future.
What's got others talking, however, is his future in hockey.
Fresh off of captaining his Burnaby Winter Club AAA bantam squad to its second consecutive Western Canadian title, the Dr. Charles Best Secondary student is preparing for a lot of attention in the next few days as the Western Hockey League holds its annual Bantam Draft on Thursday.
Various junior hockey websites - including Yahoo.com and Western Elite Hockey Prospects - have him rated first overall entering Thursday's draft.
YouTube video clips and Vancouver news shows have displayed his skills and determination.
The Seattle Thunderbirds, who hold the No. 1 pick in the WHL draft, would like nothing more than to have him in green for 2012-13.
Through the chatter and questions, Barzal fields the attention calmly and, judging by his demeanour and answers in an interview with the NOW, as skillfully as he does a two-on-one breakout.
"Yeah, it's getting close so I've been thinking a lot about it," said Barzal of the 15-year-old draft. "I'm still looking at both (WHL and junior A hockey) options, including school. I'm confident that going to the [WHL] would be a good fit if I choose it."
When your name pops up regularly alongside current NHL RookieoftheYear candidate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - who also was groomed through BWC - the buzz can get mighty busy.
But Barzal, as he showed this season in Burnaby, isn't one to lose his focus.
"I had one goal in mind this year and that was to help my team win the [Western Canadians], so I channeled my energy to that. I tried not to think about [scouts and the draft]."
On a squad deep in draftable talent, Barzal supplied a lot of the critical glue to ensure that nothing could distract the team from its target. As a 13-yearold call-up in 2010, he gleaned valuable experience and saw how leaders lead under high pressure situations.
He applied those lessons in 2011 as a first-year bantam player and was a key player on that championship team. Barzal then upped the challenge and his own expectations this past season - with golden results.
"Winning [in 2011] was special," he noted. "This year we had five returning guys so we knew what it took. We brought that experience into the locker room- Last year we had a lot of good leaders on the team that I looked up to and listened to. I took everything in."
Repeating as Western Canadian champions was front and centre. A groin injury early in the season put Barzal behind the eightball but it resulted in him working harder and smarter to stay game-ready. When the regular season wrapped up, he had tallied a resounding 39 goals and 107 points in 35 games.
It's his attention to detail and intensity that helps elevate him above the crowd, his coach said.
"He applies himself to everything he does, he works out extremely hard to get stronger and bigger," notes BWC bantam coach John Batchelor. "His core strength is incredible and you see it when he's got the puck. It's hard for the bigger players to get that puck away from him. You can't knock him off his feet easily."
Playing since the age of four, Barzal has what appears to be an innate sense of the ice, of how a play should unfold.
Batchelor, who coached Nugent-Hopkins as a bantam, marvels at how the Coquitlam teen can turn a splitsecond opportunity into a consistent scoring opportunity.
"He sits right at the top with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins," says Batchelor of his top bantam player. "He sees the game so well and has a vision of the ice that few players have. It's extraordinary, and he can do it all at a high speed. In my mind he's No. 1 (in the draft), no question."
The comparisons to Nugent-Hopkins - which have been repeated by others in the hockey world - is what has teams like the Seattle Thunderbirds, Prince Albert Raiders (No. 2) and Prince George Cougars (No. 3) counting down the hours.
At the age of 12, Barzal wowed spectators at the Quebec International Peewee Tournament by leading all scorers with 22 points in seven games. It lead to his joining Burnaby's bantam squad as a call-up for the Western Canadians, where the club finished third.
That set the ground work for the past two championships - on a team that could have as many as five players chosen in the first two rounds of the 2012 bantam draft.
Barzal says this year's roster grew through the adversity into a squad that could convert the sting of four straight losses into a final victory.
"This year we faced our share of adversity, especially losing four times in a row to Cloverdale before meeting them in the (B.C.) final. Everyone came together on that goal, so we learned that through hard work the best teams win," said Barzal.
He scored the game winner in a 6-5 win, earning the Bruins a berth into the Western Canadians. There, they capped an incredible season with a 3-0 win over Edmontonbased Southgate in the final.
Now, with all the titles wrapped up, Barzal is ready to embrace whatever happens in the draft. It will be an important option in his goal of playing in the NHL someday.
"[Going #1] would be very exciting, you look at the players who've gone No. 1 before and who've gone on to the NHL, which is my goal too, and it's pretty impressive," he said. "I try to get away from the game as much as I can but I'm so passionate about the game that it follows me everywhere."