If the reality of the National Hockey League draft hasn’t sunk in yet for Travis Sanheim, it will soon.
The 18-year-old from Elkhorn is in Philadelphia and about to become affiliated with an NHL team, either in the first round tonight (TSN, 6 o’clock) or very early tomorrow morning when the draft resumes for the next six rounds.
Before leaving, Sanheim said it was hard for him to picture the moment his name is called and he walks up on stage to be welcomed by his new team.
"Sometimes I don’t think that it’s actually happening and that I’m heading off to Philly," he said. "I haven’t really pictured it just because of that."
It’s hard to blame the 6-foot-3, 181-pound Calgary Hitmen blue-liner for his skepticism. A year ago he was just hoping to land a spot in the WHL with the Hitmen after playing Midget AAA with his twin brother Taylor for the Yellowhead Chiefs, and he wasn’t even listed in NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary rankings released last fall.
But as Sanheim earned more responsibility as a rookie with the Hitmen, his draft ranking rose as well, picking up pace as the season went on.
He finished the WHL season with five goals and 24 assists in 67 games — with 26 of those 29 points coming after Dec. 1 — and placed fifth among first-year players with a plus/minus of +25. Although he was held to a goal and an assist as Calgary was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, Sanheim still managed an impressive +5 rating in the six-game series.
Perhaps his biggest boost came after the season with his play at the world under-18 championship in Finland, where Sanheim led the bronze-medal winning Canadian team with six assists in seven games. His spectacular setup of Canada’s late winner against Switzerland in a quarter-final game alone might have been good for 10 spots in the draft and he’s been invited to Canada’s national junior development camp this summer.
Only 53rd among North American skaters in the final Central Scouting rankings, which were released much earlier than most predictions, Sanheim was slotted 18th on Thursday in a compilation of six major draft experts done by the The Hockey News.
"When he started getting more ice time in November, he started becoming one of (Calgary’s) best defenders," B.J. MacDonald of Central Scouting reported on Sanheim’s NHL prospect profile. "His one-on-one play and containment gets better every game. He uses his reach with an active stick and is not afraid to stand up and challenge forwards. He could be a nice surprise pick; he has the size and hockey sense for next level."
Sanheim was 167th in the mid-season rankings and he said the idea of going in the first round is an enticing one, and not just because he’d be able to sleep in Saturday morning.
"Obviously, it’d be a huge honour to get selected on that first day," Sanheim said. "It’s a lot more special just because of the fact that you’re there with your family and you go up on the stage with your NHL team. I think it’d be a lot more special, but at the same time … it’s just a draft and it’s what you do after (that leads to an NHL career)."
That family connection is very important to Sanheim and just as meaningful to them, as Taylor and parents Kent and Shelly have joined Travis in Philadelphia. While Taylor didn’t compete in the WHL with Travis last season after playing in the pre-season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, he showed some nice progress himself as a Manitoba Junior Hockey League rookie. Taylor scored 14 of his 15 goals in 36 games after being traded from the Dauphin Kings to the Portage Terriers and said he’s ready to play a supporting role for his brother’s day in the sun.
"Travis has worked very hard for this moment," Taylor Sanheim told Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press. "I’m glad to be here and can’t wait to hear his name called. This is his time. Maybe mine will come later, and I’ll let that worry about itself. But right now, getting to hear my brother’s name at the NHL draft, that’s real special. I’m very happy for him."
ONE-TIMERS: Taylor Sanheim is expected to be joined as a pick in the early rounds by a pair of Brandon Wheat Kings, C John Quenneville and RW Jayce Hawryluk. Both are expected to be taken in the first three rounds.