With their season on the line, the short-staffed Brandon Wheat Kings have turned to their future for help in the present.
The Wheat Kings have called up first-round bantam draft pick Nolan Patrick — selected fourth overall in 2013 — for the rest of the season, with the 15-year-old forward expected to suit up tonight when Brandon battles the Saskatoon Blades at Westman Place at 7 o’clock.
Patrick’s rookie season in the Manitoba AAA Midget Hockey League ended on Friday night when his Winnipeg Thrashers were eliminated by the Winnipeg Wild in the league semifinals and now steps right into a heated battle for a playoff spot in the final week of the WHL’s regular season.
"Yeah, I’m pretty excited and I am just going to have to take in as much as I can from these veteran guys here and hopefully I can add some new things to my game," Patrick said after taking part in his first practice with the Wheat Kings on Monday. "Hopefully I can help these guys out here and hopefully make the playoffs with them ...
"I’m going to have to be mentally prepared and get off to a good start. I know it’s going to be a fast game, so hopefully it goes well."
A right-handed shot, Patrick could step right into a prominent role. Right-wingers Peter Quenneville and Jens Meilleur are both expected to miss tonight’s game as they continue to recover from lower-body injuries, while right-winger Jayce Hawryluk will sit out the final three games of the regular season after his suspension for charging in Friday’s 6-3 loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings was finalized at four games.
Wheat Kings head coach/ general manager Kelly McCrimmon is looking forward to getting Patrick into the lineup for his official WHL debut.
"Nolan had a real good year in Midget AAA with the Thrashers, as we hoped he would, and we were calling him up at Christmastime, along with a couple of others, and he got injured right before we called him up," McCrimmon said. "So this is a chance to bring him in and get him some experience and it comes at a time when he may be able to contribute."
While Meilleur has missed four games and has yet to skate after being injured on March 1 — the last time the Wheat Kings battled the Blades — Quenneville practised for the first time yesterday in a no-contact jersey, after missing the past nine games.
Now listed as day-to-day, the 19-year-old Quenneville is still questionable for tonight but could return for Brandon’s big season-ending series with the Regina Pats this weekend.
"His first practice with our team was (Monday) and he skated on his own last week and he’s close and we’ll see how the week plays out," McCrimmon said.
While McCrimmon said lines have not been finalized for tonight, Patrick did skate with 17-year-old centre John Quenneville and 16-year-old left-winger Jesse Gabrielle in his first practice.
"It could change by game time, but that’s what the lines were (Monday), so we’ll see," said Patrick, who finished third in Midget AAA league scoring this season with 33 goals and 64 points in 39 games. "They are both really good players and Gabe set me up for my first goal in an exhibition game, so that was good ... I’m going to have to adjust quickly and hopefully I can help the guys out to make the playoffs."
The Wheat Kings (31-29-6-3) enter tonight’s clash with the Blades (16-47-2-3) sitting in a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots in the WHL’s East Division, although the Prince Albert Raiders (33-30-3-2) and Red Deer Rebels (33-31-1-4) both currently hold the first tiebreaker (most wins) over Brandon. With only three regular-season games remaining for Brandon and Red Deer, and four for Prince Albert, the Wheat Kings need to snap out of their four-game losing skid tonight and make a final playoff push this weekend.
"We need to be excited about playing (tonight) and I know we are going to be and that’s the first step for the week," McCrimmon said. "I think with a good game (tonight), that sets us up for the balance of the week and that’s our focus."
ICINGS: Latvian LW Rihards Bukarts has scored in three straight games for the Wheat Kings and has nine goals and 16 points in his last 13 games ... C Tim McGauley is riding a five-game point streak (2-4-6) for Brandon ... Former Wheat King D Ayrton Nikkel has five goals, 15 points and 95 penalty minutes in 60 games for the Blades this season ... Raiders C Leon Draisaitl has been named WHL player of the week after firing five goals and notching nine points in three games, including scoring the game-winning goal in Prince Albert’s 3-2 win over Brandon on Saturday night.