Nothing is permanent in junior hockey, particularly when it comes to line combinations which some coaches seem to change more often than they change their socks.
But the past couple of weeks Brandon Wheat Kings fans with an eye aimed at the future have been able to catch a glimpse of a trio that could very well turn out to be the Western Hockey League club’s No.1 line next season.
In fact, it could be argued that Tim McGauley, Jayce Hawryluk and Richard Nejezchleb are already the Wheat Kings’ top unit — at least in terms of their offensive production — even though all three are first-year WHLers. In five games since the line was put together at the beginning of this month, Wheat Kings forwards have accounted for 10 goals and 16 assists. Exactly half of that production — five goals and eight assists — have come from the sticks of McGauley, Hawryluk and Nejezchleb.
"Those two guys, Richard and Jayce, they’re very offensive guys," said McGauley, who plays centre with Nejezchleb on his left side and Hawryluk on his right. "They’re really good in the (offensive) zone. It’s just that our (play in the defensive) zone needs to get a little better, but … we think alike and they’re good finishers."
McGauley, a 17-year-old from Wilcox, Sask., has been the most productive of the three in the past five games, with two goals and four assists. Nejezchleb, an 18-year-old from the Czech Republic, has a goal and three assists in that span, while Hawryluk, a Roblin native who turned 17 on New Year’s Day, has scored two goals and set up another. Going into Tuesday’s slate of games, Hawryluk (18 goals, 25 assists) and McGauley (17 goals, 26 assists) were tied for seventh in scoring among WHL rookies at 43 points.
"I think we have some chemistry going on," said Nejezchleb, who has had an injury-plagued season but has been productive when healthy with 10 goals and 22 points in 32 games. "We spend a lot of time in the ‘O’ zone."
Each one of the three brings a little something different to the table, and Wheat Kings head coach Dwayne Gylywoychuk likes the way their strengths mesh.
"I think they really complement each other," he said. "I think that Timmy through the middle has really grown as a player this year. He sees the ice really well and … Richard has come back from his injury and really stepped in and helped those guys. He’s a big body, he’s strong on the puck and Jayce is a dynamic player. He can feed those guys (and) he’s got a hell of a shot, so I think all three of them together becomes a good line."
How long they’ll remain together is anyone’s guess. In fact, Hawryluk left Tuesday’s practice early due to an apparent injury and if he’s not feeling better today the partnership could be interrupted — at least temporarily — as soon as tonight when the Wheat Kings begin the final week of their season by hosting the Prince Albert Raiders. Due to their ages and production — they’re the two highest scoring forwards on the team — Hawryluk and McGauley are no-brainers to be back next season. The status of imports from year-to-year can be harder to gauge, although Nejezchleb said he wants to come back to Brandon.
Players don’t get a vote on who they play with, but if he did, McGauley said he’d love to keep his wingers next season.
"For sure, I think next year it can be a really good line for us," he said. "We can definitely dominate the other lines on the other teams with the calibre of players that I’m playing with. With Richard and Jayce they’re great players now and next year they’re going to be even better."
ONE-TIMERS: Brandon C Tyrel Seaman, who has been recovering from a concussion at home in Choiceland, Sask., is back in Brandon but will not play this week. Also out with a season-ending injury is C/LW John Quenneville (lower body) … Unused tickets from second-half games can be exchanged at the Keystone Centre box office for tickets to tonight’s game on the final rain check night of the season … The Wheat Kings will honour the CIS bronze medal winning Brandon University Bobcats men’s volleyball team tonight, while the team will also host the Pucks ’n Pets ball toss for the Brandon Humane Society.