Brayden Low knew what type of player he could be.

It wasn't the player who scored just one goal in a year with the University of Alberta. It certainly wasn't the one who scored just three times as a rookie last year with the Rapid City Rush.

So this past offseason, Low went back to the drawing board.

He completely changed up his summer routine, hiring a new skills coach in Glenn Wheeler back in his hometown of Richmond, British Columbia. The pair worked on everything — shooting, scoring, skating, anything that would help him improve his game.

"I had two off years in a row so I knew something needed to change," Low said. "I redid everything ... I changed the tool box."

The work put in is paying off for the Quad-City Mallards forward.

Through 15 games Low has five goals and nine points, already career highs, and he has been a welcome scoring threat to a team that is currently lacking them, currently second on the team in points. He had a six-game point streak snapped in Sunday's loss to Kansas City.

"Hopefully he just keeps going," head coach Phil Axtell said. "If you’re going to change your identity or change the label that’s under your name when everyone looks at a roster, you have to continue to do it. Fourteen games isn’t enough to change it so he works hard, he’s one of the hardest working guys on the ice."

This strong offensive start to the season is also a relief to Low after his season was cut short due to a gruesome injury suffered against Tulsa on Feb. 17. While making a hit, the blade of the opposing player went through the tongue of Low's skate, cutting right through the tendon of his big toe on his right foot. It required reconstructive surgery that forced Low to miss the rest of the season and kept him off the ice until the middle of May.

"It was tough, but I've always been pretty focused on what I want to get accomplished and that's play at the highest level possible," Low said. "I knew it was just more adversity I had to overcome, but hopefully I can be beneficial here to the team if I can stay healthy.

"I knew better days were ahead."

It's not the first time Low's optimism and perseverance has helped him get to where he is now. In 2011, at the age of 17, he broke his right patella after crashing into a goalpost. The injury required surgery and a three-month recovery. 

After that, he bounced around to various junior teams before finally settling in with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League in 2012. He enjoyed a strong 2 1/2 seasons, including his final season in 2014-15 when he scored 16 goals and added 15 assists in 70 games as the team's assistant captain.

"I've definitely dealt with the ups and downs of junior hockey," he said. "It's definitely made me a better person because I've been to the lowest of the lows. I'm feeling pretty good now but I've been down there, I've been down a dark road and it's finally starting to click.

"I just want to come here every day, show up to work and take this as seriously as possible because I've seen how quickly it can disappear."

That attitude is something that appeals to Axtell, who has given Low regular shifts and time on both the power play and penalty kill.

"He's a blue-collar, honest, hard-working player," Axtell said. "He doesn't cheat, he does things right. He's been a horse for me."

When looking for a place to sign this offseason, the Mallards caught Low's eye. He remembered a game just two weeks before his injury with Rapid City in which the Mallards put up five goals in the first period en route to a win. His former Rapid City teammate, Josh MacDonald, was already on the roster after being traded to the Mallards following that game.

"I wanted a fresh start, and I didn't really want to go too far east, but I knew when we came here and played last year, I really liked the city and I really liked the way the team played," he said. "I liked that up-tempo style Quad-City brought."

That up-tempo style hasn't surfaced this year, with the team averaging just 2.13 goals per game.

Injuries have been a part of that but Low knows the identity of the team isn't the one that got shutout by Kansas City last week. It certainly isn't the one that has scored just three goals in the last three games.

The Mallards have a chance to prove it Friday against the Wichita Thunder, leaders of the Mountain Division and averaging 3.78 goals per game.

"I think we have enough skill in the lineup, especially in the forward group, we have three lines that can put the puck in the net," Low said. "It's just a matter of finding the timing and the chemistry and keeping that down ... I think this is a team on the verge of an offensive explosion, we've just got to build up to it."

And Low knows what can happen with a little hard work.


Sports reporter for the Quad-City Times