Brandon Wheat Kings forward Jayce Hawryluk of Roblin races up ice with the puck in recent WHL action. The 17-year-old was named the club’s player of the month Tuesday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Jayce Hawryluk leads the Brandon Wheat Kings in some key categories this season, but there’s one in particular he’s paying special attention to. And it’s not the category you might expect from a player with a team-high 31 points.
"My defensive game has got a lot better, I think," said the 17-year-old forward from Roblin, who was named the Wheat Kings player of the month for November. "I’ve been working on that … and I hope to keep improving and have a high plus/minus this year. That’s a goal of mine from the beginning of the season and I’m going to keep working at it."
Hawryluk nearly led the Wheat Kings in scoring as a rookie last season — his 43 points were two short of team leaders Tim McGauley and Ryan Pulock — but his plus/minus of -18 was tied for the fourth-worst among Brandon forwards. This season, Hawryluk is +11, seven better than anyone else on the roster.
Plus/minus figures are an imperfect gauge of defensive play, but Hawryluk’s coach backs up the improvement suggested by the statistics.
"I think he’s improving," Wheat Kings head coach/GM Kelly McCrimmon said. "He certainly is playing a more complete game than what he has in the past. I think that he needs to focus on continuing to get better, work on all aspects of his game. He was the player of the month; I thought he was deserving, and he’s been playing his best hockey of the season."
Hawryluk has been streaky this season, but his overall production has been solid and improving. He’s scored 11 goals and added a team-high 20 assists in 28 games, including eight goals and 12 helpers in 13 November contests.
Hawryluk started the month with back-to-back hat tricks, went goalless the next nine games — although he had six assists in that span — then broke out again on the weekend, with two goals and four assists as the Wheat Kings closed the month by picking up three of a possible four points against the Moose Jaw Warriors and Prince Albert Raiders.
"There’s been some ups and downs for sure," Hawryluk said. "That’s how every season’s going to be, though. You’ll have some cold stretches and some hot stretches, but I think overall it’s been good. And I think playing alongside Johnny (Quenneville) and different guys rotating in and out of that spot on the left wing, it’s been good. I think me and John have great chemistry; he’s a great player and I owe it all to them for my success during the season."
Hawryluk and Quenneville played with rookie left-winger Tyler Coulter for the bulk of the last couple of games, and they’ve also lined up with Rihards Bukarts and Ryley Lindgren recently. First-year left-winger Jesse Gabrielle joined the Wheat Kings’ top two scorers for Tuesday’s practice.
ONE-TIMERS: The Wheat Kings had all of their players practise without restrictions on Tuesday, including Lindgren, who was out the last two games, and G Curtis Honey, who has missed 13. Honey is listed as day-to-day with his upper-body injury and could return this week, while Lindgren has been removed from the injury report.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 4, 2013