|North Bay Battalion|
|Owen Sound Attack|
|Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds|
|Acadie-Bathurst Titan||Baie-Comeau Drakkar|
|Blainville-Boisbriand Armada||Cape Breton Screaming Eagles|
|Chicoutimi Sagueneens||Drummondville Voltigeurs|
|Gatineau Olympiques||Halifax Mooseheads|
|Moncton Wildcats||PEI Rocket|
|Quebec Remparts||Rimouski Oceanic|
|Rouyn-Noranda Huskies||Saint John Sea Dogs|
|Shawinigan Cataractes||Sherbrooke Phoenix|
|Val-d'Or Foreurs||Victoriaville Tigres|
Brandon, MB. (Courtesy of Rob Henderson, Brandon Sun) -- Not since the likes of Brayden Schenn, Matt Calvert and Scott Glennie took the Western Hockey League by storm as rookies five years ago have the Brandon Wheat Kings been in a position to offer this kind of opportunity to the young forwards on their 50-player protected list.
With only six of last year’s regulars projected to return up front, there could be seven or eight forward spots up for grabs when the Wheat Kings open their training camp with Rookie registration Tuesday night at Westman Place.
The good news for the club is that there is a deep group of 16- and 17-year-old forwards lining up for those spots. It’s so deep in fact that even with all those openings, the Wheat Kings’ brain trust could face some very difficult decisions if all the pieces fall into place.
“We think our 1996 and 1995 age groups are real strong,” said Wheat Kings general manager Kelly McCrimmon, who also has new Czech right-winger Richard Nejezchleb joining his team’s forward ranks.
“That’s where we’re going to be looking to really make some difficult decisions on who is able to advance and who continues on, first of all from camp, and then secondly from the pre-season and into the regular season.”
Former Saskatoon Blades first-round bantam pick Tim McGauley finished last season with the Wheat Kings and looks to become a full-time WHLer this year, while fellow 17-year-olds Taylor Cooper and Jack Palmer also had cups of coffee in Brandon and were productive in the Alberta AAA Midget and Vancouver Island Junior B leagues, respectively.
Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League scoring champion Geordie Maguire, acquired in the off-season deal that sent veteran goalie Brandon Anderson to the Everett Silvertips, could also make an instant impact at 17 if he’s willing to commit, while Kailum Gervais, also 17, has Junior A experience, having spent part of last season with the SJHL’s Yorkton Terriers.
While the time is now for those 1995-born players to make their push for roster spots, behind them are an impressive batch of ’96s who may be ready to make the jump in their first year of eligibility.
Among them are Kord Pankewicz and Jayce Hawryluk, first- and second-round picks, respectively, from 2011. Hawryluk led all 15-year-olds in scoring in the Manitoba AAA Midget league by a wide margin last season and finished fourth overall with 31 goals and 67 points in 40 games.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” Hawryluk said. “It’s lucky that there’s so many open spots for us young guys.”
Listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds last season with the Parkland Rangers, Hawryluk has spent the summer in Brandon training with Wheat Kings veterans Ryan Pulock and Jens Meilleur and is now close to 180 pounds.
“He’s an immensely talented young man and along with that is that he’s become a good-sized young man,” Wheat Kings director of player personnel Al Macpherson said of Hawryluk. “He plays the game with enthusiasm and with passion and a very high level of skill. He’ll be an exciting guy to watch.”
Pankewicz, meanwhile, was drafted as a defenceman but played forward last season for the Leduc Oil Kings in the Alberta AAA Midget league, producing 37 points in 33 games, and he could see time at both positions during training camp.
Another Albertan to watch is Edmonton’s John Quenneville, while Brandonites Brett Kitt and Tyler Coulter both hope to prove they’re ready to play in the WHL at 16.
“I saw (Kitt and Coulter) both at the (Team West under-17 camp) in Wilcox two weeks ago and I thought that they were both pretty good,” Macpherson said. “Tyler Coulter looks to be in the best shape of his life and skating a little better. They both play the game hard and with a purpose.”
With six veteran defencemen on the roster, spots on the blue-line will be harder to come by, although there will be room for one or two, with 17-year-old Colton Waltz the most likely to crack the squad after finishing last season in Brandon, while fellow Albertans Dominic Thom and Riley Van Horne, both 16, will also look to make their mark.
Jordan Papirny, their second of two first-round picks in 2011, will try to elbow his way in at a position already manned by returnees Corbin Boes, 19, and Curtis Honey, 18, to become a rare 16-year-old goalie on the Brandon roster.
“We’ve never drafted a goalie as high as we’ve drafted Jordan Papirny, so I think in a lot of respects he’s probably different maybe than any other goaltender that we’ve brought in as a young player,” McCrimmon said.
“When I look at top young goaltenders, I know that Tyler Plante made a real good impression at our camp when he was 16. We did choose to put him back in midget, but I think in Jordan’s case, he’s an experienced young goaltender … so we’re going to give him every opportunity to make a good impression. And then saying that, we’re really encouraged with Corbin Boes and Curtis Honey returning as veterans. The competition is what we want to see and evaluate.”
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