It’s all a little surreal for Travis Sanheim.
The 18-year-old Elkhorn native began the season just hoping to crack the Calgary Hitmen lineup, but finished it as a rapidly rising candidate for this year’s NHL draft. On Thursday, Sanheim and Brandon Wheat Kings forwards Jayce Hawryluk of Roblin and John Quenneville of Edmonton cracked the elite list of candidates selected to take part in the NHL draft combine in Toronto later this month, a collection of the top 119 young players in the game, handpicked by Central Scouting and NHL teams.
For Sanheim, it’s a tad overwhelming, but exciting for a kid who didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but has clearly exceeded even his own expectations.
"It’s crazy," he said. "Obviously my goal this year was just to make the Western Hockey League. And then I found a key role and started playing well and then being able to represent Canada and win a bronze medal (at the world under-18 hockey championship), and now to go to the draft combine, its all crazy and sometimes I don’t even think it’s real ... but it’s definitely exciting."
Sanheim shot up the draft charts this season after firing five goals and racking up 29 points in 57 games as a rookie defenceman in the WHL. At 6-foot-3 and 189 pounds, Sanheim also has a solid frame to go with his superb skill set, earning him a spot on Canada’s team that earned a bronze medal at the U18 worlds in Finland last month.
After starting the season largely under the radar for NHL scouts, Sanheim has climbed from being rated 167th in North America in NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term draft rankings to 53rd in the final rankings. In fact, the most recent International Scouting Service rankings released this week have moved him all the way up to 30th overall for this year’s draft, making him a possible late first-round candidate in some circles.
For his part, the well-spoken young man is just trying to remain level-headed about it all, and concentrating on working out four days a week with Hawryluk here in Brandon as they prepare for the NHL combine in Toronto. From May 26-31, the top 101 players from North America and top 18 international prospects will be put under the microscope by all 30 NHL teams, undergoing medical exams and physical testing and interview sessions as they are poked and prodded by scouts in a week-long camp.
While it can be a little unnerving for some, Sanheim is looking forward to sharing the spotlight with the top young draft prospects in the game as NHL clubs finalize their wish lists for the 2014 NHL draft, slated for June 27-28 in Philadelphia.
"Its definitely exciting and it’s going to be a great experience, being able to compete against all the top guys that are going to be in the draft this year and then getting to meet with all the teams and see what their opinions are about me and seeing where I stack up, so that will be pretty cool," said Sanheim, who is represented by Newport Sports Management superagents Don Meehan and Craig Oster. "Hopefully I am in good condition and can test well there and hopefully the meetings go well as well."
Like Sanheim, Hawryluk and Quenneville are also anxiously awaiting the NHL combine after their superb seasons with the Wheat Kings. Quenneville, an 18-year-old centre who also played for Canada in the U18s with Hawryluk and Sanheim, was rated 23rd among North American prospects in the final Central Scouting Bureau draft rankings after his breakout campaign with 25 goals and 58 points in 61 games. Meanwhile, Hawryluk, an 18-year-old right-winger, is ranked 37th overall by Central Scouting after leading the Wheat Kings in scoring with 64 points — including 24 goals — in 59 games.
Hawryluk can’t wait to go to Toronto with his two buddies and share the stage with the top draft prospects in the world.
"I have been training with Travis for the past couple of weeks for the combine and it’s awesome that John was selected as well and we are looking forward to it," Hawryluk said. "It will be awesome to see some familiar faces there and it’s exciting ... It’s a good opportunity to show your fitness in front of scouts and have meetings with teams and I am looking forward to it. It’s a once in a lifetime thing."