Listed at 151 pounds, Jagger Firkus was the second-lightest player taken in this year’s NHL draft, a field that included 225 total players.
Firkus knows he’s undersized. It’s something he’s been hearing all his life since he’s never been a big kid, he said.
“I do hear a lot of that, and it doesn’t really change my mind on who I am or what I’m going to be,” Firkus told The Seattle Times on Thursday after the conclusion of the Kraken’s development camp.
The Moose Jaw Warriors (Western Hockey League) center and winger was projected to be a first-round draft pick. He expected to be one too. But last week, he fell to the second round where the Kraken picked him at No. 35 overall, something he said might’ve occurred — at least in part — because of his size. Height isn’t really an issue for the 5-foot-10 right winger, but he wants to gain weight by focusing on his diet and a training routine.
“Looking forward, I understand that putting on weight is a big thing for me,” Firkus said. “Not only weight, but making sure it’s power and it’s going to translate toward the ice. That’s kind of what I’m going to be doing through the summer and the winter.”
A part of the Kraken’s four-day development camp has focused on that very aspect, Firkus said. The team’s nutritionists and training staff talk to players about the logistics of their diet and how to eat healthier meals. They tell players what’s in the food they’re being served during camp, and explain why in particular those foods are beneficial.
Firkus’ trainer at home in Irma, Alberta taught him the basics of nutrition and development so he could understand what was happening in his body. But the Kraken’s staff have gone much more in-depth, focusing on high-protein foods and not just consuming a lot of calories, but the right calories (calories in a Big Mac aren’t good compared to calories in a steak, he says). They’re experts at understanding what players like him need to do to gain weight and muscle, he added.
Firkus has been “just trying to soak it in” and remember what the staff is telling him because they’re trying to help him.
“I’ve got to get bigger and stronger,” he said when he was drafted. “That’s one big thing I’ve really worked on. But I believe I’m going to do that, because I have the work ethic to do it.”
For instance, Firkus learned more about the benefits of eating fish, which is high in vitamins and protein. Yams are good for him too, especially because he’s trying to gain weight and muscle. Firkus said he learned more about both foods from the nutritional staff. It helps that he enjoys both.
The right winger has been conscious of his diet for a few years, but particularly this year. He’s worked on “packing as much protein as I can” and eating a regimented three meals a day. A good day would consist of eggs and egg whites for breakfast, a lot of chicken and rice for lunch and then a steak or fish for dinner — this example was one Firkus drew directly from the Kraken’s developmental camp.
Eating a big breakfast is crucial for him to gain weight, along with a big dinner. The most significant change is that Firkus is eating slightly bigger meals. That’s one of the adjustments he’ll have to stick with for the next few years.
“It’s not always the [most fun] because you’re just trying to pack it in you, but you have to do it to get to the next level, especially at my size,” Firkus said. “It’s mandatory. I’m going to do it, I can’t wait for it.”
The results aren’t instant, but Firkus already reported that he’s up to 158 pounds, compared to about 150 at the start of last season. He already feels like he has more energy and doesn’t tire out as quickly. It’s helped his speed, his strength and his shot.
Firkus said he’s always been a positive person, but eating healthy makes him feel even better. He said he doesn’t feel as groggy when he wakes up in the morning, either.
“You don’t notice it immediately … and I can’t expect that because it’s not something that just overnight, it’s gonna change,” Firkus said. “But throughout weeks … you can start to notice it. I think that’s awesome, it just makes [me] want to keep doing it.”
Firkus, who has been nicknamed “Firkus Circus,” scored 36 goals in his first full season with Moose Jaw. Firkus isn’t really sure where the nickname originated — he thinks it might’ve been a random person on Twitter — but it’s since become common. The Moose Jaw commentators used the nickname, he said, and “it just sort of stuck. Ever since then, I’ve seen it in quite a few places.”
Firkus is from the same small hometown as fellow Kraken defenseman Carson Soucy, who’s also one of his older brother’s best friends. Firkus and Soucy skate together regularly, and Soucy has been a role model for the 18-year-old.
“A lot of people throughout this organization know what I bring to the team, so just going out there and just showing them that I’m going to improve throughout the summer,” Firkus said on Monday. “I can keep growing, that’s why my future is bright and I’m really excited about it.”