It appears Kelly McCrimmon has done it again.
No, the head coach, GM and owner hasn’t turned the Brandon Wheat Kings into a WHL champion — at least not yet — and his club still hasn’t locked up a playoff spot, as we enter the final weekend of the regular season.
But a masterful move made by McCrimmon two years ago will soon add yet another blue-chip building block to the foundation of a franchise that is starting to turn the corner.
Whether the Wheat Kings make the playoffs or not, Brandon will have a shot at picking first overall in this year’s WHL bantam draft and is guaranteed to pick no worse than fourth overall. In the deal that keeps on giving, the Wheat Kings’ 2012 trade of Brenden Walker to the Saskatoon Blades not only gave Brandon a bevy of draft picks in 2012, 2013 and 2014, but also the option to swap first-round selections with Saskatoon in this year’s bantam draft. Since the Blades are out of the playoff picture and already part of the WHL draft lottery, that swap will result in giving the Wheat Kings either the No.1, No.3 or No.4 pick in the May 1 bantam draft, with a 19 per cent chance of being awarded the first pick overall. (As a side note, the Blades will have to ship the pick they get from the Wheat Kings to the Vancouver Giants to complete another trade).
After selecting highly touted forward Nolan Patrick fourth overall and brilliant blue-liner Kale Clague sixth overall last year, Brandon has a chance to wind up with three top-six picks from the 2013 and 2014 bantam drafts, clearly a franchise-changing position to be in.
For Wade Klippenstein, the Wheat Kings’ new director of scouting, it’s like Christmas come early.
"It’s fortunate when you have the opportunity to double up and have back-to-back drafts where you can pick those kinds of guys, absolutely," Klippenstein said. "There’s definitely some great players (in this draft class). I don’t know if the depth goes as far as it did last year … but there are some very good players that can be impact guys, for sure."
It will still be a year or two before McCrimmon’s moves start paying big dividends — with Wheat King fans getting an early Patrick preview this week — but the future is bright, indeed.
If the Wheat Kings do qualify for the playoffs, they will hit the road next week. But at this point, their destination could be one of six cities.
With only three days left in the WHL’s regular season, the Wheat Kings (73 points), Red Deer Rebels (73 points) and Prince Albert Raiders (71 points) each have two games left as they battle for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. With so much still up for grabs, Brandon’s travel plans could feature trips to either Prince Albert or Red Deer for possible tiebreaking games Tuesday night — there is no scenario in which the Wheat Kings would host a tiebreaker game — or head to Edmonton, Calgary, Regina or Swift Current to open the first round of the playoffs next week.
With the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair scheduled for a week later than usual this year — March 31 to April 5 — if the Wheat Kings do make the playoffs they would be guaranteed to host at least Games 3 and 4 in Brandon, possibly on Tuesday, March 25 and Wednesday, March 26. However it shakes out, the Wheat Kings still have multiple playoff scenarios to try to prepare for.
Wheat Kings scoring leader Jayce Hawryluk will need his teammates to get to the playoffs if he hopes to play again this season.
The 18-year-old right-winger from Roblin will have to sit out the final two games of his four-game suspension for charging — a March 7 hit that injured Edmonton Oil Kings forward Mads Eller — as Brandon plays its final two games of the regular season this weekend. Had Hawryluk not been suspended twice already this season, his discipline would have been only one or two games, WHL vice-president Richard Doerksen confirmed.
"Absolutely," Doerksen said. "There were two key things: One, because he left his feet to make the hit and injured the opponent, the injury not only knocked the opponent out for that game, but also knocked him out for the game the next night in Moose Jaw. So that would have amplified the original suspension. And then the fact that he’s had two previous suspensions this year, this being his third, made him a repeat offender."
Blessed with speed and skill, Hawryluk also plays with an edge, a quality that scouts, coaches and teammates love. But with Brandon battling for a playoff spot, the timing of this suspension couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Wheat Kings and Hawryluk needs to find a way to rein it in and keep from going over that edge in the future.