Chad Robinson’s Western Hockey League career wouldn’t have felt complete without some significant playoff action.
The 21-year-old from Minnedosa is getting that right now, playing a key role for the Brandon Wheat Kings, who are facing the Edmonton Oil Kings in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal.
Prior to this season, Robinson hadn’t seen post-season action since his rookie campaign with the Red Deer Rebels in 2011, and he wasn’t exactly a key figure that season, playing just one game in two rounds.
"This is my first appearance since I was 17, and I was scratched for the majority of those games," said Robinson, who was acquired last season from the Rebels.
"I only played one game, so it’s good to get into the playoffs and get some experience. I’m enjoying it and it just takes a little more hard work and commitment, I think."
Going into Tuesday’s game between Brandon and Edmonton, Robinson had scored twice in six playoff games, with both of his markers coming in the first round to help the Wheat Kings sweep the East Division pennant-winning Regina Pats.
He was particularly clutch in Game 3 of the Regina series, scoring the tying goal, short-handed, as the Wheat Kings came back from three goals down to win 5-4, while also contributing some key defensive plays.
Brandon’s other two overagers have also registered playoff milestones in their final WHL season. Forward Jens Meilleur scored his first career playoff goal in Game 2 of the series against Regina, while defenceman Rene Hunter earned his first two career playoff points — both assists — in the conference quarter-final. Both fourth-year members of the Wheat Kings, Meilleur and Hunter are in the playoffs for the first time in two seasons after Brandon missed out in 2012-13. Like Robinson, they are enjoying added responsibility compared to the last time they were in the playoffs.
"Obviously I’m an older guy and it’s a little bit different," Hunter said. "I’ve just got to make sure the guys are going and stuff like that."
Meilleur has played on the Wheat Kings’ fourth line during the playoffs, but the line has been used frequently, coming up big a number of times in the first-round victory, and he’s also seen his responsibility increase in this year’s playoff run.
"You just have a whole other role, not only on the ice but in the dressing room," he said. "You’ve got a responsibility to make sure everybody’s ready for every game."
WHEAT KINGS CRACK TOP 50
The days of June 27 and 28 could be busy for members of the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Three Wheat Kings are ranked among the top 50 North American skaters eligible for the National Hockey League entry draft, to be held in Philadelphia.
Centre John Quenneville tops them all, being rated 23rd by NHL Central Scouting in its final rankings, making him a likely second-round pick or perhaps even a late first-rounder once European players and goalies are added to the mix. Following Quenneville is right-winger Jayce Hawryluk at No.37 in the rankings, while left-winger Richard Nejezchleb, who was passed over in last year’s draft, sits at No.50.
Quenneville, whose older brother and teammate Peter is a draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, had a breakout campaign, with 25 goals and 58 points in 61 games during the regular season. Hawryluk, a Roblin native, led the club with 64 points, including 24 goals, in 59 games, while Czech import Nejezchleb, who went to camp with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins as a free agent before the season, had 57 points, including a team-high 32 goals, in 66 games.
Also cracking the rankings was were Latvian import Rihards Bukarts, who was 208th among North American skaters, and Wheat King rookie Jordan Papirny, who is 24th among North American goalies. Bukarts had 28 goals and 54 points in 65 games in his first WHL season, while Papirny won 22 games, with a 3.28 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage this season.
Elkhorn’s Travis Sanheim is projected as a potential pick in the top three rounds, being ranked 53rd. The defenceman had five goals and 29 points in 57 games as a WHL rookie with the Calgary Hitmen.
Former Wheat King Taylor Cooper, who was traded to the Lethbridge Hurricanes this season, is ranked 160th, while ex-Virden Oil Capital Ty Edmonds is 18th among North American goalies. Cooper finished with 12 goals and 24 points in 65 games, while Edmonds had a 3.85 GAA and an .887 save percentage as a WHL rookie with the Prince George Cougars.
» Brandon Sun