Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Ryan Pilon juggles a puck on his stick during a recent pre-game warmup. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Ryan Pilon’s poise with the puck and his passing ability were readily apparent when he joined the Brandon Wheat Kings after a blockbuster deal with the Lethbridge Hurricanes in November.
Lately, the 17-year-old defenceman has added another dimension to his game, turning that ample skill into offensive production. Pilon has looked increasingly comfortable in a Wheat King uniform and is displaying the potential that prompted the Hurricanes to use the third overall pick in the 2011 Western Hockey League bantam draft on the 6-foot-2, 212-pounder from Duck Lake, Sask.
Pilon has joined Brandon captain Ryan Pulock on the team’s top pairing and has earned three goals and eight points in his past 10 games, posting an impressive plus/minus of +5 during that stretch.
"I’m just a lot more comfortable with the guys, with our system and a lot more comfortable with Pulock now," said Pilon, who will be back in action tonight when the Wheat Kings host the Medicine Hat Tigers at Westman Place (7 o’clock). "We know each other’s tendencies, we’ve been playing together for a good amount, so I think it will just pick up even more."
Part of Pilon’s production has come from his addition to the first power-play unit, and eight of his 13 points in 29 games as a Wheat King have come with the man advantage.
"I have privilege enough to be playing with Pulock on the power play too, so it’s good that (the coaches) are showing some trust in me that I can be out in all situations," said Pilon, who has seven goals and 20 points in 46 games overall this season.
But Pilon has been noticeably more aggressive in pursuing other offensive opportunities as well, stepping up to join the rush or sliding in from the point to give the Wheat Kings another weapon in the high slot. He’s shown a knack for scoring at key times as well —although neither was officially a game-winner, two of his last three goals broke ties in games where Brandon went on to victory, while the third was an insurance marker late in the third period to give the Wheat Kings a two-goal lead.
Assistant coach David Anning gave Pilon high marks for knowing when to attack, and he’s not surprised to see the youngster assert himself more often after playing conservatively at first.
"You want to be reliable and you want to be somebody that the coaching staff can trust when you get to a new team," Anning said. "So I think his approach was exactly what he should have done when he got to a new organization, and as he gets more and more comfortable, you’ll see that he’ll be able to produce offensively."
After spending last week on the road, the Wheat Kings play a pair of home games this week, renewing their battle for first place in the East Division with the Swift Current Broncos on Friday. The Wheat Kings are also in close quarters with the Tigers as they jockey for position in the Eastern Conference, and Anning believes the tight standings should give the team plenty of motivation.
"These are important games for us, obviously," he said. "The next two being on home ice are crucial points and teams that we want to catch or get ahead of here. … We want to keep building. I thought that we responded well in Saskatoon (beating the Blades 4-1 on Saturday after losing 7-4 to the Calgary Hitmen on Friday) and we had the right approach to the game, so (today’s) challenge is to make sure we keep moving forward."
ONE-TIMERS: Wheat Kings head coach/general manager Kelly McCrimmon was not at Tuesday’s practice as he was at the WHL board of governors meeting, which wrapped up in Las Vegas … Brandon C John Quenneville, who has missed the last five games with an upper-body injury, practised in a no-contact jersey on Tuesday. He is listed as day-to-day … D Rene Hunter (sick) did not skate on Tuesday.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 5, 2014