Close friends and linemates with the Brandon Wheat Kings, John Quenneville and Jayce Hawryluk even proved to be nearly inseparable for National Hockey League scouts.
The 18-year-old forwards were chosen only two picks apart at the draft in Philadelphia on the weekend: The New Jersey Devils made Quenneville the last pick of the first round, 30th overall, on Friday night, and the Florida Panthers jumped at the chance to take Hawryluk with the second pick of the second round when the draft resumed on Saturday morning.
The Wheat Kings completed a draft hat trick in the fifth round on Saturday, when Richard Nejezchleb was picked 122nd overall by the New York Rangers.
Quenneville, a centre, wouldn’t have been a first-rounder were it not for a change of heart by the NHL, which originally stripped the selection from the Devils as punishment for signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a 2010 contract the league ruled was designed to get around the salary cap. But the pick was reinstated in March, giving Quenneville a night to remember.
"It’s an extremely special feeling knowing that I’m their guy and they wanted me. It means a lot," Quenneville said from Philadelphia, where he attended the draft with his family, including his brother Peter, who is also a Wheat Kings teammate.
"It’s a moment I’ll never forget, seeing my mom crying, my parents and my siblings smiling like that. It’s something I’ll never forget and I’m going to cherish for a long time."
The overnight break before the second round meant a longer wait and a restless night for Hawryluk, but the Wheat Kings’ leading scorer from last season had an ace up his sleeve. The right-winger from Roblin knew the Panthers, who chose defenceman Aaron Ekblad first overall on Friday, also viewed him as a player worthy of a first-round selection.
"I had a meeting with (the Panthers) when I came to Philly and that was the day before the draft, and they said ‘We pick at 32 and if you’re there at 32, we’re going to take you 100 per cent,’" Hawryluk said from Philadelphia. "I talked to them after I got drafted today; they were saying (on Friday) when New Jersey was saying ‘from the Brandon Wheat Kings’ (before picking Quenneville) they got all nervous and whatnot. … They honoured their promise and that means a lot."
There was some symmetry in the Panthers’ pick as Hawryluk was chosen in the exact same slot by the Wheat Kings in the 2011 Western Hockey League bantam draft.
"It’s kind of weird, 32 in the bantam draft, 32 in the NHL draft," Hawryluk mused.
"… Maybe I’ll change my number."
The third time proved to be a charm for Nejezchleb. Passed over in the draft in his first year of eligibility, the 20-year-old Czech winger finally found a home with the Rangers.
Quenneville was thrilled to see his teammates join him on the draft board on Saturday.
"I’m not surprised at all with Jayce," the Edmonton native said. "I actually thought he may be gone (Friday) night, but he had to wait a little longer and what a great pick Florida got there. And I just saw that Richard got picked by the Rangers and I’m real happy for them both."
All three were key players for the Wheat Kings last season, with Hawryluk scoring 24 goals to go with his team-high 64 points in 59 games, while Quenneville had 25 goals and 58 points in 61 contests. Nejezchleb scored a team-best 32 goals and had 57 points in 66 games. Hawryluk and Quenneville both helped Canada win bronze at the world under-18 championship this spring and Hawryluk will also take part in the national junior team’s development camp this summer.
ONE-TIMERS: Elkhorn’s Travis Sanheim was chosen in the first round, 17th overall, by the draft-host Philadelphia Flyers on Friday … The Panthers have drafted three Wheat Kings over the years, all in the second round, with Hawryluk joining Tyler Plante (32nd overall, 2005) and Colby Robak (46th, 2008) … The three Wheat Kings selected were the most in one draft since 2003, when Eric Fehr (Washington Capitals, first round), Ryan Stone (Pittsburgh Penguins, second) and Rick Kozak (Philadelphia, third) were chosen. The team record is 10 draft picks, set in 1979 … With the NHL draft complete, the Canadian Hockey League import draft is slated for Wednesday. Despite already having the maximum of two imports in Nejezchleb and Latvian Rihards Bukarts, the Wheat Kings will be able to make their pick, 30th overall, as Nejezchleb is eligible to play professionally as a 20-year-old.